On the face of it, Co-op and Somerfield is the most unlikely pairing since Lembit Opik shacked up with a Cheeky Girl.

One is a strictly ethical, traditionally sleepy organisation that has been run for the benefit of its members. The other is an aggressively run business, highly focused on its cost base that for the past three years has existed to make a handful of very rich people even richer.

What the two have in common is that historically they have both been the epitome of mediocre grocery retailing, offering a 1970s shopping experience at prices that were more Marks & Spencer than Morrisons.

In the past few years, much has changed and the managements of both deserve credit for how they have worked, at some speed, to invest in their brands, update their stores and carve out a niche as convenience specialists.

As we report today (right), Co-op chief executive Peter Marks is relaxed about the prospect of combining the two groups into one entity. The experience of hoovering up smaller co-ops into the group over recent years, including last year’s mega-merger with United Co-ops, should certainly hold the group in good stead.

But merging two co-ops with the same values is not the same as bringing together two culturally very different businesses. This is a big deal in a cut-throat market and the risks are high. Marks might want to dig out the cuttings on Sir Ken Morrison – he was pretty confident before his big deal too.

Net gains are needed

Fashion retailers live and breathe by how they merchandise their stores. Great windows, enticing displays and intelligent point of sale are fundamental blocks on which success is built.

But online it’s a different story. Semi-literate product descriptions may be funny (page 24) but actually they’re a deadly serious issue because they’re letting brands down.

The problem is that buyers and the web guys are polar opposites and they don’t talk. But whoever takes the lead, it’s crucial that they work out a way of collaborating to come up with copy that sells as well as the best in-store merchandising.