Woolworths have a seemingly effortless genius for food retail (mounting competition notwithstanding), which makes their current struggles in clothing and, Down Under, department-store retailing, all the more puzzling. Their travails with Aussie retailer David Jones are well-documented, here and elsewhere, but they are doubling down on their investment – which has already cost shareholders A$712m – by investing another A$124m in the business. The relaunch of their refurbished flagship store in Sydney next year is going to be a test of whether this investment is justified. Back home, in the meantime, food took over from clothing as top performer, with turnover in food rising +9.6% from last year, as the operating profit in clothing dropped -21.3%. Of more concern, of course, is profitability – Woolies recorded a loss of R3.6bn this year, in contrast with a profit of R5.5bn last year. Still, Mr Susman is sanguine. “If in two years' time we are having the same conversation, well, we'd better be rethinking it, but I'm quite confident that we will not be in the same situation," he says.
Comment: Ditch David Jones is our advice, then stick to the knitting and take the food model global.