Low sales, not politics, is reason to ditch Australia Day items

Australians eager for Australia Day merchandise will have fewer options this year.

Australians eager for Australia Day merchandise will have fewer options this year. Photo: Getty

Despite the highly-publicised backlash over decisions to dump Australia Day merchandise, retailers aren’t backing down – because the majority of customers don’t seem to care.

Woolworths and Big W were the first major retailers this year to announce they would not stock their typical ranges of Australia Day merchandise in stores due to declining demand and broader discussions of what January 26 means to different parts of the community.

Aldi quickly followed, and Coles said it would be stocking a “small range” of Australia Day merchandise; Kmart stores had already abandoned Australia Day-themed products last year.

Public figures such as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton have since called for a boycott of Woolworths, and a Woolworths store has been vandalised following the retailer’s decision.

But Woolworths and fellow retailers aren’t changing their positions.

Managing director of Wesfarmers’ Kmart Group Ian Bailey told that the demand for Australia Day products was so low the retailer wouldn’t bring the themed merchandise back even if the date was changed from January 26.

He said in terms of customer pushback on the company’s decision, there has been “nothing”.

“It was never a big promotional day where we saw a surge in sales,” Bailey said.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said retailers’ decisions about merchandise they stock is guided by historic sales information and the understanding of their customer base.

“Societal attitudes and cultural dynamics are continuously evolving,” Zahra told The New Daily.

“Retailers often adjust their strategies and product offerings in response to these changes.”

Consumer demand

Retail Doctor Group CEO Brian Walker said retailers don’t determine societal attitudes; they simply reflect them.

And for the last few years, Australian society has not shown enough interest in Australia Day-themed goods for retailers to keep up a high level of stock.

“The retail performance is not reflecting a desire [by all Australian people] to actively associate … themselves on Australia Day,” Walker said.

“So [retailers are] just making pragmatic decisions based on the performance of the demand for that product.”

Monash University department of marketing senior lecturer Luke Greenacre said supply lines for once-a-year events tend to be a strain for retailers as consumer demand fluctuates.

If stores end up with shelves of leftover stock after the relevant celebratory period, it can be a struggle to clear the stock in time to fill shelves with the next scheduled line of themed products.

“Anecdotally, after Australia Day, you can see that there’s often a lot of heavily discounted products leftover on the shelves, which suggests that it’s not selling as much as they were hoping to, or forecasting in previous years,” Greenacre said.

He said demand for Australia Day products might be lessening over recent years but outside of sports, Australia has never had a strong nationalist culture as seen in countries like the US.

“Australia is culturally different from other countries. And that’s one of the things that is special about the country.”

Australia-themed products

While some major retailers are taking a step back from Australia Day merchandise, Walker said there are still themed products for sale from other retailers.

Woolworths Group’s online marketplace My Deal confirmed it will sell Australia Day-themed products through third-party sellers, while Bailey said Kmart still carries Australia-themed products “365 days a year”.

Greenacre said even though retailers are cutting back on specifically Australia Day-themed merchandise, they are not ignoring the public holiday entirely.

Instead, they are promoting food and products that Australians are likely to use on the day.

“[The Woolworths website] landing page has great value products [such as] marinated kebabs for the Australia Day long weekend,” he said.

“They’re not stopping acknowledging the holiday at all. It’s just that they’re choosing to emphasise … the Australia Day barbecue that a lot of people will be having.

“So people are still obviously celebrating some kind of vacation period; whether they’re treating it more as an Australia Day-type holiday where they’re celebrating Australia, or they’re taking the time to be in family groups and just celebrate being amongst their family.”

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