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Woolies boss defends decision to dump Australia Day merch

Brisbane Woolies vandalised in Australia Day protest

Source: Queensland Police

Abuse of Woolworths staff has skyrocketed after a decision not to stock Australia Day merchandise, the company reports.

The surge in abuse and aggression towards some of its tens of thousands of workers has prompted the retail giant to take out full-page newspaper ads explaining its move.

“We aren’t trying to ‘cancel’ Australia Day. Rather Woolworths is deeply proud of our place in providing the fresh food that brings Australians together every day,” Woolies chief executive Brad Banducci writes in the ad, which appeared on Wednesday.

It follows the retailer’s decision earlier in January that it would no longer stock the public holiday paraphernalia on its shelves, citing declining sales.

woolworths australia day

Woolworths has taken out full-page ads explaining its Australia Day decision. Photo: Supplied

The move followed similar decisions by other big retailers, including Kmart, Big W and Aldi. Rival supermarket Coles still stocks the merchandise, as do some smaller regional retailers.

But Woolies’ move prompted a backlash, and even calls for a boycott from Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

Since then two stores have been vandalised with pro-Australia Day graffiti and, according to Banducci, the number of acts of rudeness or aggression to workers has leapt by half.

“It’s critically important that any frustration is expressed towards me and the executive, and that it’s not to our hard-working team in stores,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“We could have done a better job of landing our message more clearly at the beginning and therefore, I felt it was appropriate to come back out and reiterate our message and be very clear.”

Banducci, who did the media rounds on Wednesday to explain the decision, reiterated that sales of Australia Day merchandise had fallen for several years and the space it took up on shelves had already begun to shrink.

“It is a commercial decision,” he told Nine’s Today show.

“There are many other places you can buy Australia Day-specific merchandise. We focused on what we do best.”

Banducci said he had personally received more than 3000 emails from the public since the decision.

Despite the backlash, he said there were “not really” any signs of a Woolworths boycott.

“But that is not our real focus, our real focus is how our team feel, how our customers feel and what happens in our stores,” he said.

He denied the big retailer had joined any campaign to “cancel” the public holiday.

“We are celebrating Australia and what it means to be Australian, with the way we can celebrate it best – which is with food,” Banducci said.

“We could have done a better job of explaining the decision. Clearly that’s true. I feel the weight on myself and the impact that this is having on our team.

“They are proud, hard-working Australians, and for them to be seen as anti-Australian or woke, is fundamentally unfair.”

Drakes puts Australia Day merch on its shelves

Last week, Retail Doctor Group CEO Brian Walker told The New Daily that retailers didn’t determine societal attitudes; they simply reflected them.

In recent year, Australians hadn’t 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.

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

-with AAP

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