Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Supermarket giant Woolworths’ fumble with the map of Tasmania is the third in a series of merchandising and promotional blunders that suggests the 'Fresh Food People' just don’t get the Australian public.
That should be setting off alarm bells with analysts and shareholders because picking the zeitgeist is a core competency for any retailer.
Reacting to massive public outrage, Woolworths caved in and recalled thousands of Australia Day caps emblazoned with an outline of Australia - minus our southern-most state.
If it was an isolated incident Woolworths could be forgiven, but it’s the third epic consumer fail in recent memory (not counting the Masters fiasco which is dominating the headlines).
In 2015 there was the “Fresh in Our Memories” debacle where Woolworths used an image-generating website to plaster its logo on iconic photos of WW1 diggers.
Not just in poor taste, but possibly in breach of the Protection of the word ANZAC Act of 1920.
Then in 2014 the racist singlet “Australia, if you don’t love it, leave.” was withdrawn after a social media backlash.
And despite all the practice they’ve had in recent years, Woolies still hasn't got its crisis comms right.
In fact, it looks like there’s something rotten with the Fresh Food people when it comes to taking responsibility.
A day into the crisis, Woolworths is yet to post an official statement on its website, but an anonymous spokesperson is quoted saying “Woolworths is aware of the issue and in the process of withdrawing the product from our supermarket shelves”.
Grammar aside, that’s almost as offensive as their original sin.
There is no apology for the offence they’ve caused, no reassuring statement about how they value Tasmania and no recognition that management even noticed: the issue didn’t warrant the attention of an executive, just a nameless minion.
Instead of ‘fessing up and apologising for the mistakes, its statements seem dismissive and defensive. Woolies, it's really easy to get this right.
1. Start by showing the public you understand you've caused offence.
2. Back that up with some actions - withdrawing product and offering a refund - then throw in some positive comments about what a great state Tasmania is.
3. And because Woolworths is a bit short of CEOs at the moment, given Grant O'Brien's $10m departure and the struggle to find a replacement, chairman Gordon Cairns should step up to the plate and show he is aware of customers' concerns.