How to fix Woolworths: what the overpaid executives won’t find in their spreadsheets

wooliesAustralia’s biggest retailer, supermarket group Woolworths, is floundering.

It’s share price and market value is down almost 30 per cent since April last year, sales are stagnating and profits are forecast to fall 35 per cent over the six months to December.

The Woolworths business is in a mess, while its competitors Coles and Aldi continue to perform strongly and steal market share.

No doubt, Woolworths is spending millions on expensive reviews and turning to its overpaid executives for answers. But I think – judging by their latest announcement – they have probably missed the point entirely.

Scouring the seven page ASX release, I found plenty of the usual management jargon like “customer metrics” and “change programs” but not a single mention of the word “quality”.

As a regular Woolworths shopper, this says a lot, but is hardly surprising.

We buy most of our groceries at Woolworths, not out of any sense of loyalty or because we like shopping there, but simply because its convenient – there is a grocery store literally up the road from our house.

When we have the time, we prefer shopping at a nearby supermarket extravaganza called La Manna, with its funky cafe, ice-cream and dessert bars and amazing selection of fresh and exotic produce.

Indeed, the demise of Woolworths is a perfect example of having too much market power and becoming utterley complacent.

  1. The real problem is quality.

My biggest gripe is with the many crappy products sold in my local Woolworths. Often they are dressed up as bargains, but what they really are, are over-priced duds.

Many people may have laughed at the story about the Woolworths scissors that needed a pair of scissors to open the packet but  that’s just the top of the iceberg I reckon.

There were a lot of mandarin pips. A lot!

There were a lot of mandarin pips. A lot!

From the packet of mandarins I bought recently infested with so many pips they were inedible to the book-reading light I returned three times because it didn’t work, my general feeling is that finding savings, rather than providing quality products is the overriding motto at Woolies.

Not surprising “value perception” rather than “real quality” is considered a key customer metric in the latest bit of corporate spin.

  1. Stop confusing customers

labels

I have been caught out on many occasions thinking I have bought a discounted item only to pay more at the till. This is because price labels often don’t relate to the items above them. I am certain this is a deliberate strategy. Another one is promoting items with bright labels, when there is no discount. This is highly annoying. And cutting the price by 10 or 20 cents on an item is just an insult to shoppers.

3. Keep stores properly stocked

Perhaps I am being pedantic, but I am always a bit gob smacked when I stroll up and down the aisles only to find the store has run out of such staples as skim milk and brown rice. How is this possible for a company with access to the best supply chain technology and automated ordering software in the world?

4. Make shopping a bit more interesting.

If only Woolies were a bit more like Aldi...

If only Woolies were a bit more like Aldi…

Woolworths could learn a thing or two from German supermarket giant Aldi, which mixes up the standard grocery items with strange and exotic products that change from week to week. You never know what you will find in an Aldi, but in Woolworths its the same boring stuff, week in and week out.

5. The new rewards program sucks

Woolworths new rewards program is a badly thought out idea and feels like a bit of a fraud. The newly introduced scheme does not pay out loyalty discounts on items immediately as it did in the past. Instead you accumulate them on your rewards card until they reach a certain value.

So instead of immediately getting a bit of reduction in your bill, you have to make multiple visits to the store to get anything back. Whichever marketing genius came up with this idea, should be sacked or at least forced to eat some of those pip-infested mandarins.

So, those are just a couple of ideas for whoever replaces Grant O’Brien as Woolworths CEO.

And here’s another tip for those overpaid Woolies executives. Forget the high-powered meetings, power point presentations and slick marketing campaigns. Get out of your wood-panelled boardrooms and take a stroll instead down some of the aisles of your supermarkets to get the real picture.

And stop and have a word with some of your shoppers, you might learn a thing or two.

Note: I have made changes to this story. The original version made comments about my local Woolworths supermarket staff. This was wrong and I apologise. The problem is with its management.

A homage to the humble boerewors

Image

I’m all for globalisation, the mixing of cultures, the idea of the city as ‘melting pot’. After all, who wants to eat fish and chips every day? Or meat and two veg?

But sometimes globalisation gives me the shits.

Shopping in Woolworths last weekend. Grand final weekend. I’m picking up something to take to the barbecue.

As if it’s bred into my genes, my old South African eyes lock in on a coil of sausage behind clingwrap.

Boerewors” it says. No, it proclaims proudly!

“Yes please!” (I chant to myself).

Anyone who has spent anytime in South Africa, will know that you can’t have a barbecue (or ‘braai‘) in the homeland without this humble sausage sizzling away alongside a few giant steaks, chicken kebabs, pap and Castle Lager.

For Australian natives, think this combination: football, beer and meat pie.

The word ‘boerewors’ is Afrikaans, the language spoken by Afrikaners (the descendents of the original Dutch settlers to the Cape in 1652) famous for lots of great things (rugby, Francois Pienaar, Charlize Theron, Ernie Else, the first heart transplant) and some not so “lekker” things (apartheid, Oscar Pistorius, PW Botha).

But the boerewors is certainly one of their finest inventions and one that all South Africans, black, white, expat, coloured, indian have incorporated into their cultures and exported to far flung places. It’s uniquely South African, as the Lamington is to Australia and pavlova is to New Zealand.

The word actually translates as: boere (farmer’s) wors (sausage), which now that I think about it throws up some rather silly jokes and images I’ve not thought of up until now.

But, no, no, no and no! The boerewors is sacred. It is delectable a mix of delicious fatty meats and spices. It’s heaven in a sausage.

But, back to the boerewors on the shelf at Woolies and my temporary annoyance with globalisation.

IMG_20131006_215941

Just look at the packaging! Made by the British Sausage Company. But even worse: Uniquely Australian!

WHAT???

Not a mention of South Africa or farmers or apartheid. Not a boer insight.

I shake my fists in the supermarket. I consider stealing all the boerewors packets on the shelf, justified in my mind by the lack of respect that has been shown.

But, I calm down. Gather myself. And think about boerewors.

My stomach and taste buds win in the end. I buy the damn thing, take it to the barbeque, cook it, eat it and…

It’s simply sensational. At least those boerewors-loving Brits/Aussies got the recipe right.

I eat almost the entire coil and with heaving gut, think to myself: if it wasn’t for this bloody globalisation, I’d never get to eat the damn thing in the first place.

Throw another boerewors on the barbie, Shane!

(Turns out the ‘British Sausage Company’ is a butchery in Perth, no doubt of South African heritage).