Christmas backlash: 'Never shopping at Big W again'
Furious Big W customers are having their very own "airing of grievances" after the department store removed references to "Christmas" from its range of festive tree products.
The Herald Sun reports Big W's traditional tree is now called a "Grand Pine Tree", the snow-coloured version a "White Forest Tree", with other styles including the "Black Forest Tree", "Mayfair Tree" and "Atlanta Tree".
"We know that many of our customers get really excited about Christmas and a number of customers like to co-ordinate their home Christmas decorations," a spokeswoman said. "In order to assist our customers co-ordinate their Christmas trees and decorations, we label packaging with key Christmas themes."
But Christmas Tree Farm owner Fabian Iuele told the paper it was "really sad". "It ignores the religious element and history of the holiday which is still important to people," he said. "People have been traditionally calling these types of tree Christmas trees for years."
On Big W's Facebook page, many vowed to boycott the business.
Bernie Cee said he was "disgusted". "Are you serious? Lucky I buy mine from Kmart," he wrote. "That's a disgrace and I'm offended that I am not allowed to celebrate and enjoy Christmas the way we should. You have lost a customer Big W, shameful."
Kay Cafarella said she was "offended", describing it as "racism to the extreme". "Let's see if you close on Christmas Day and be hypocritical or choose to continue your views ignore the reason for closure," she wrote. Disgraceful BigW, I certainly won't step foot in another one of your stores."
Christine Gabriel said Big W had "just lost all my business". "So long, I am shopping Kmart now," she wrote. Lourens Riley said her family loved Christmas. "We will show our support by never shopping at Big W again," she wrote.
Bert Bear said he needed a new Christmas tree but would "but it somewhere that is selling Christmas trees, not bloody festive trees". "Sick of this PC rubbish," he wrote. "Wake up, Big W. No wonder Aldi are coming for you clowns."
Terry Welch said he would "not be spending one cent in your shops until the word Christmas returns", while Margaret Perusich said Big W was "off my Christmas shopping list". "Absolutely ridiculous," she wrote. "We are a Christian country who follow the Christmas traditions."
Not everyone shared in the outrage, however.
"Morons going on about why the word Christmas has been taken off the boxes, here's some education for you," wrote Jean Metzenheimer. "Not everyone celebrates Christmas - you know that Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate it, Easter or even birthdays right?
"Also not everyone is Christian, so Christmas means something different to everyone. Quakers and Church of Christ also don't celebrate it, there are at least a dozen branches of Christianity that don't celebrate it. Education is a must, plus Christmas is a hard time for some people but hey you just worry that one word isn't on a box."
The word Christmas does appear on Big W's website, which also sells the trees.
At Woolworths' full-year results last month, the company revealed another massive loss for the struggling Big W arm, with sales falling 5.8 per cent on the previous year to $3.6 billion and losses blowing out to $150.5 million.
Woolworths boss Brad Banducci described the result as "extremely disappointing" but said it reflected the investment in the second half of the year in a turnaround plan.
"FY18 will continue to be a year of investment for Big W and we do not expect a reduction in losses as we continue to invest to improve the customer shopping experience, including re-establishing price trust," he said.
Woolworths has repeatedly said it is not planning to sell off Big W despite widespread doubts about the future of the business, which has struggled to compete in the $40 billion general merchandise market in the face of a powerhouse Kmart.
In November, CEO Sally Macdonald resigned after just 10 months in the role. Her replacement, David Walker, most recently had the job of tidying up failed hardware chain Masters before it was offloaded.
As part of its overhaul, Big W has created "customer universes" that reflect how Australian families shop called "About Kids", "About Leisure", "About Homewares", and "About Everyday and Seasonal", and is refurbishing its 185 stores.
"Customers told us our stores were dated and a little tired, we've started a light refresh so customers notice Big W is starting to change," Mr Walker told analysts last month. "We've dropped prices on average by 20 per cent, but dropping prices alone won't [work].
"They told us they wanted better ranges, better choice, they don't always want cheap and cheerful, give them options to trade up [for] better quality, more features or brands. We now have a clear brand and range strategy.
"We used to range 14 kitchen spoons across eight brands, now we're looking at eight spoons across four brands."
Big W currently employs 19,000 people across its 185 stores.
It's not the first time a major retailer has ruffled feathers over a religious holiday. Earlier this year, some customers took issue with Coles displaying "Happy Ramadan" signs, after Woolworths faced similar complaints in previous years.