Woolworths defends 'ridiculous' U-turn as new-look store opens

The company has been criticised by shoppers for changing the name of its Countdown stores in New Zealand back to Woolworths.

Woolworths has come under fire as it opens its first store in New Zealand as part of the almost $400 million rebranding project some locals have deemed “ridiculous”.

The Australian supermarket giant opened its first store in Wellington nearly 100 years ago, but has been operating in New Zealand as “Countdown” since 2011. On Thursday the company began its transition back to Woolworths by reopening the store in Bethlehem under its new name following a NZ$5 million refurbishment that took more than five months. Existing stores will be rebranded from Countdown to Woolworths in 2024.

The front of Countdown Bethlehem in Tauranga after rebranding as Woolworths New Zealand. Source: Abigail Dougherty/Stuff/Supplied
The front of Countdown Bethlehem in Tauranga after rebranding as Woolworths New Zealand. Source: Abigail Dougherty/Stuff/Supplied

Shoppers criticise $400 million rebrand

Despite its upgraded features — including a drive-thru for online customers, electronic shelf labels, and a new health food aisle — irritated shoppers have argued that such money is desperately needed elsewhere.

“I think $400m could bring prices down a lot, helping out every day New Zealanders where they need it most,” one woman complained on the Countdown Supermarkets Facebook page. “A bit crazy to think y’all think this is a great idea right now, when economically we as a nation are struggling to feed our families…”

“Why do you have to go through a very expensive rebranding and name change to be able to offer better value to your customers?” someone else said, while a third wrote: “Is this how you justify your ridiculous prices?”

Inside of Countdown Bethlehem in Tauranga, now operating under the brand Woolworths New Zealand. Source: Abigail Dougherty/Stuff/Supplied
Inside of Countdown Bethlehem in Tauranga after it reopened as Woolworths New Zealand. Source: Abigail Dougherty/Stuff/Supplied

In response, a spokesperson for Woolworths said the “change has been in the works for some time now” and that the cost of the rebrand wouldn’t be passed down to customers at the checkout.

The company previously claimed the move, which will cost the Australian parent company $371 million (NZD$400 million), is a “long-term commitment to delivering its best supermarket experiences for customers” across its 194 stores.

Woolworths defends new store

Woolworths New Zealand Managing Director, Spencer Sonn, who helped open the new store on Thursday morning, described the moment as “an exciting milestone” on the road to becoming the best supermarket in the country.

“Today is an example of the kind of results our customers will see from the $400 million we are investing in renewing and refreshing our stores to make them better, and safer for local customers and for our team,” he said. “Our investment is not in changing signage — it’s in modernising our stores to meet the needs of our communities across Aotearoa.

“Walking around Woolworths Bethlehem customers will find much more than a new name — it’s a fresh new shopping experience with upgraded fresh produce, deli, bakery and seafood areas, electronic shelf labels, additional self-checkouts and new aisles with over 1700 new products on shelf.”

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