Red-faced Woolies apologises and pulls ‘sim­i­lar’ baby car­rier

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Larry Claasen Re­tail Writer [email protected]­nesslive.co.za

High-end cloth­ing and food re­tailer Wool­worths, the coun­try’s fourth largest re­tailer by mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion, was forced into mak­ing an em­bar­rass­ing apol­ogy when it “ac­knowl­edged” there were “strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties” be­tween its baby car­rier and one made by a lo­cal busi­ness.

The is­sue came to light when Shan­non McLaugh­lin, the founder of Ubuntu Baba, wrote a blog about how there was a re­mark­able re­sem­blance with her baby car­ri­ers, and those sold by Woolies, spark­ing a so­cial me­dia out­cry.

Af­ter con­duct­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and meet­ing McLaugh­lin on Wed­nes­day, the re­tailer ad­mit­ted it had made mis­takes and said it would re­move the car­rier from its stores and web­site.

It also of­fered a full re­fund to cus­tomers who would like to re­turn the prod­uct. “This is not in line with our val­ues and goes against the very clear pol­icy and creative guide­lines we have in place for our de­sign process.

“This lapse in process is be­ing ad­dressed in­ter­nally,” the group said in a state­ment.

“We have sin­cerely apol­o­gised to Shan­non per­son­ally and we would like to of­fer our heart­felt apolo­gies to our cus­tomers who ex­pect more from us.”

This is not the first time that a copy­right in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a small busi­ness in re­cent years forced a U-turn by Wool­worths.

Cold-drink maker Frankie’s Olde Soft Drinks won an ad­ver­tis­ing com­plaint against Woolies in 2012, when the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of SA ruled that the re­tailer could not use the phrase “good old fash­ioned” to mar­ket its in-house ver­sion of a vin­tage-style cold drink.

At the time, the KwaZu­luNatal-based Frankie’s said the use of the phrase im­plied that it was a Woolies prod­uct bot­tled by Frankie’s.

McLaugh­lin wrote on her blog that there was more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Ubuntu Baba’s car­ri­ers and those sold by Woolies.

There was lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the waist­band, which had taken her and her fa­ther weeks to get right, and even the brand­ing of the car­ri­ers [Stage 1 and Stage 2] were the same, she said.

She also said that her com­pany records showed Ubuntu Baba had sold and de­liv­ered two of her car­ri­ers to peo­ple work­ing in prod­uct sourc­ing and de­vel­op­ment at Wool­worths’s Cape Town of­fice in 2017.

Ubuntu Baba em­ploys about 10 peo­ple at its fa­cil­ity in Cape Town, and sold its prod­ucts through a hand­ful of stores and agents through­out the coun­try.

Re­tail prices start at R1,390 on the com­pany’s web­site. Woolies sourced its car­ri­ers from China and sold them at a frac­tion of the price.

“This lapse in process is be­ing ad­dressed in­ter­nally.

“We are in­ten­si­fy­ing and strength­en­ing the train­ing of our peo­ple, our sup­pli­ers and part­ners on our val­ues­based ap­proach to the de­sign and sourc­ing process,” Wool­worths said.

THIS LAPSE IN PROCESS IS BE­ING AD­DRESSED IN­TER­NALLY, SAID THE GROUP IN A STATE­MENT

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME A COPY­RIGHT IN­CI­DENT IN­VOLV­ING A SMALL BUSI­NESS FORCED A U-TURN BY WOOL­WORTHS

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