Woolworths CEO breaks silence over Australia Day merchandise uproar

Jan 24, 2024
The CEO of Woolworths has addressed the public's concerns in a statement, offering a defence of the company's commercial decision. Source: Getty Images.

In the wake of mounting controversy surrounding Woolworths’ decision not to offer specific Australia Day merchandise in 2024, CEO Brad Banducci has finally addressed the public’s concerns.

The retailer recently ignited public debate when it disclosed its decision to 7NEWS.com.au, which led to a wave of reactions from frustrated customers and ignited a social media storm.

“While Australian flags are sold within BIG W all year round, we don’t have any additional themed merchandise available to purchase in-store in our Supermarkets or BIG W ahead of Australia Day,” a Woolworths Group spokesperson said at the time.

“There has been a gradual decline in demand for Australia Day merchandise from our stores over recent years. At the same time there’s been broader discussion about 26 January and what it means to different parts of the community.

“We know many people like to use this day as a time to get together and we offer a huge variety of products to help customers mark the day as they choose.

“Woolworths and BIG W celebrate the best of Australia every day, and we’re proud to support the farmers, producers, and suppliers who work with us.”

The announcement triggered a wave of reactions from the public, with sentiments ranging from frustration to outright anger across the social media landscape.

After the uproar continued to gain momentum, Banducci has now finally responded to the mixed sentiments stirred by the announcement, directly addressing the public’s concerns in a statement and offering a defense of the company’s commercial decision.

“Over the last two weeks, there’s been much commentary in the media and we have had direct feedback from our customers and our team regarding our approach to selling Australia Day merchandise,” Banducci wrote.

“I have tried to read all customer complaints and team incident reports, and I’m writing this in the hope of clarifying our position and also asking everyone to treat our team with respect.

“Our commercial decision to not stock specific Australian Day general merchandise was made on the basis of steeply declining sales. The decision to stock this mostly imported merchandise has to be made almost 12 months in advance. So as a business decision, it doesn’t make commercial sense.

“There are many other ways in which we are supporting our customers and our team to celebrate Australia, such as acknowledging the best of Australian products in our stores and online and supporting our team to mark Australia Day with their local community.”

However, the statement did little to quell the growing backlash. During an appearance on Sunrise on Wednesday, January 24, host Natalie Barr pressed Banducci on the matter, questioning whether Woolworths was making a political statement by not stocking Australia Day merchandise.

“At the end of the day is it your role to tell Australians what they can and can’t buy?,” she asked.

In his response, Banducci refuted the assertion claiming that: “We are focused on providing great value around everyday needs so you can mark the occasion and celebrate the Australia Day long weekend with friends and family.”

“That is our focus,” he added.

Barr inquired if there were additional factors influencing the decision, to which Banducci firmly refuted, emphasising that the choice was rooted in commercial considerations rather than political motivations.

“It is more than that, on this subject, isn’t it? It is making a political statement by not stocking Australia Day merch?” Barr asked.

“I don’t think that is true,” Banducci replied.

“We’re focusing on what we do best, which is food and everyday needs.

“There is pressure out there on Australian families and affordability, so we focus on what we do best which is that.”

Although Banducci defended the retailer’s decision, he did acknowledge that there could have been improvements in communicating with shoppers.

“It has not gone down badly. It is a decision that we made collectively as a team,” he explained.

“But I do worry for people who feel frustrated, who perhaps don’t fully understand our message, there is a risk of them taking out frustrations in store with hard-working staff.

“I thought it was important to restate our position.

“We hadn’t stated it as clearly as with should at the beginning. That is the problem going into Australia Day.

“If nothing else comes out from this, the clear message is, treat our team with the respect they deserve.”

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