Woolworths boss warns of subdued Christmas trading but ‘consumer is king’

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 24th November 2011

Newly appointed CEO of Australian retail giant, Woolworths Limited, Grant O’Brien today warned of subdued Christmas trading in Australia this year.

Addressing shareholders at Woolworths’ Annual General Meeting in Sydney, Mr O’Brien said he believes trading in Australia will “remain subdued – most probably through to the next financial year”.

His warning comes days after market research organisation, IBISWorld, forecasted a flat Christmas for food retailers in Australia.

Mr O’Brien said the 2011 financial year had been the worst he has ever seen in his career. As well as low levels of consumer spending, Mr O’Brien blamed price deflation, the high Australian dollar and an “intensely competitive market environment” for tough trading conditions.

Earlier this month, Mr O’ Brien unveiled a multi-pronged strategy to expand Woolworths’ operations in Australia. This came after an announcement in October 2011 that the Woolworths’ supermarket chain achieved first quarter sales of A$14.6bn.

Mr O’Brien told the company’s shareholders, “In the last decade or so, our industry has evolved from an era where the supplier was king – where they controlled the shelves, the supply chain and the customer data. We then moved to the era of the retailer, where the best of the best successfully wrested back control of the shelves, supply chains and customer information. In the future, the customer is well and truly in the driving seat. It’s a new era, the era of the customer.”