In the past year, according to Australian consumers, brands including Coles, Woolies, Bunnings and Officeworks have proven more adaptable than global disruptors such as Uber and Tesla. Mary Winter explains why.

The past 18 months have forced all of us to adapt to a changing world in a variety of ways. Retail brands are no different.

When it comes to innovation, our minds often jump to technology brands, entertainment brands or free spirits that are disrupting the system such as Uber and Tesla.

However, it may surprise you to learn that Australians are more likely to see every day retail brands as being innovative and adapting to a changing world.

Every year for the past 14 years, Principals has conducted Brand Alpha, a study of how consumers feel about Australian brands. Consisting of both qual and quant, the research has spoken with 22,000 people since its inception providing 154,000 assessments of 286 brands across Australia and New Zealand.

The 2021 Brand Alpha study looked at how people see brands when it comes to originality, agility and adaptation in Australia.

Surprisingly, some of our most old school retailers rate very highly against meeting the challenges of a changing world, adapting quickly in the face of change along with feeling free to be original and trying, failing and trying again.

It seems that a brand can maintain an enduring sense of purpose and still be seen as an entrepreneurial mover and shaker.


The most adaptive Aussie brands

According to Brand Alpha, Bunnings, Woolworths, Officeworks and Coles rate as highly as Google, Apple and Samsung when it comes to meeting the challenges of a changing world. And perennial favourite Bunnings scores the highest with Australians when asked about brands that adapt quickly in the face of change.

Similarly, Coles, along with Woolworths and JB HiFi, rate more highly than entrepreneurial brands such as Tesla when it comes to adaptability. Consider that 71 per cent of Australians think Coles and Officeworks adapt quickly in the face of change while Zoom scores only 50 per cent despite its ability to shift the world of white-collar work during the pandemic.

So what are these retailers doing to be given such credit for being able to adapt?


Lifestyle innovation

Australians identify strongly with the outdoors and their environment meaning gadgets, entertainment and ‘cool stuff’, while still on our minds, may be of limited interest compared to everyday needs.

With many Australians spending more time at home during the pandemic, inspiration and fun ideas to make life better have never been more important.

Our tried-and-true retailers know how to add to our lifestyles consistently over time. They get trend-based change in food, fashion and home and have been there for us during this experience. Brands such as Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings and Kmart are embracing the new and helping us too as well.


Having a go

Entrepreneurialism is not just about making something completely new, it’s about ‘having a go’. It’s about more than just one good idea – such as a new type of car or phone.

Consistency is key and the favourite brands of Australians consistently have a go winning the favour of consumers more than flashy international brands.


Responding in a timely way

Australians like the energy of ‘doing’. This means we admire innovation in service solutions.

The pandemic has seen high levels of responsiveness by retailers. They made sure stock was available when demand was high and took responsibility for customer welfare.

Our trusted retailers stepped up during troubled times and made things easier and safer.


Embracing practicality

In Australia, every day, practical creativity is admired. It’s not about making something radically different. It’s about making something that is fit for purpose and responds well to everyday functioning.

This comes from our history and tradition of being grounded in primary industry and dealing with a harsh environment.

Our everyday retailers get the job done time and time again, demonstrated through examples such as practical yet creative homewares and meal solutions appealing to shoppers.

As the Australians currently in lockdown will attest, the need to adapt is far from over. Retailers that continue to rise to this challenge will be remembered in the minds of consumers long after we emerge from this health crisis.


Mary Winter is the Insights Director for branding agency Principals.

This article first appeared in Inside Retail.

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