On Wednesday the 20th Christians threatened to boycott Woolworths, after it announced that it will be removing religious magazines from its shelves. Last week Woolworths announced that it will be removing low selling magazines from its shelves. The retailer also told media that it usually reviews it s merchandise on a regular basis. Woolworths informed the magazine editors in a letter saying: “Woolworths has taken a business decision to no longer stock any religious magazines, with immediate effect.”

I think the Woolworths should not have made this PR announcement, as many retailers remove, add and change products on their shelves. I guess their PR department thought, this might be a sensitive issue, let’s be transparent. But because they gave it a religious or it happened to be religious magazines, it would be a sensitive topic as any religious topic becomes.

Answering a customer’s question on the Woolworths Facebook page, a spokesperson of the chain simply said that Woolworths had reviewed their whole magazine catalogue and rationalised it.
Woolworths CEO, Simon Susman, told Beeld that it was against the store’s policy to sell religious and political magazines.”We are currently reviewing all magazines sold by Woolworths. We will continue to remove magazines from our shelves that aren’t popular with clients.

Following the announcement an outcry came from Churches and Christian radio stations, TV programmes and magazines to boycott Woolworths. An open letter was sent to the Woolworths CEO, from Dr Isak Burger, president of the Apostolic Faith Mission of SA, where Burger said he was “shocked that a store of Woolworths’ reputation would resort to religious discrimination and perceived animosity towards the largest faith group in the country.” He encouraged other Christians within his influence to support a nationwide boycott of all Woolworths stores until the “unfair policy” was reversed. The decision by Woolworths received a large number of comments on its Facebook fan page.

After all this Woolworths promised to put the five Christian magazines back on its shelves, following a public outcry over the withdrawal of the titles due to a lot of feedback from its customers following the withdrawal of the publications.

It is my opinion that Woolworths can remove and review any products that they stock as and when they please, this whole thing has blown out of proportion because there is a religious angle to it. When religion enters any discussion it is bound to be a heated or very opinionated discussion. Woolworths should have just said that it will be removing all slow selling magazines from its shelves. I think that Woolworths just made an incorrect business decision and is now trying to remedy the fault. It’s really silly of the Christians that found this offensive and took it personally to make it such a big thing. If you are secure with your religious views you would have been offended with it, you have the option to buy religious books from another store. I feel that Woolies should not have reacted to the negative feedback so quickly; they should have stick to the business decision made.

The comments on Facebook regarding this have been very strongly opinionated, people were ‘having it’ at each other and putting one another down for their views. Some people on the fan page were being sarcastic and asking Woolies to bring back products that the retailer used to stock.

In summary, this really shows how powerful social media has become for businesses and that businesses don’t know how to handle it. We will see Online Reputation Management (ORM) becoming increasingly important and many companies consulting these agencies to monitor their online conversations.

Interesting reads: http://memeburn.com/2010/10/woolworths-runs-into-christian-backlash-on-facebook/



Woolworths Facebook comments

Resources: Beeld, SAPA, IOL news, Cape Argus

 This blog is being completed as part of the requirements of the Digital Marketing academy.