Marketing

Shoppers furious over new Coles nappies: Why product improvements should be invisible

Emma Koehn /

Angry customers are accusing Coles of doing an “Arnott’s”, with changes to its home brand nappies range prompting outrage similar to that faced by the biscuit maker when it changed the iconic Shapes recipe.

This week shoppers asked the supermarket giant to explain exactly why it tried to “improve” the already popular Coles Comfy Bot nappies, amid reports that the new product is less absorbent, causes rashes on their infants and are resulting in leakages that users say never happened when their children wore the original product.

Customers have taken to social media to post pictures of the old and new products side by side, complaining that the new version has a chemical smell and is much thinner than the original.

“I’ve been using your nappies for over four years for two children. They were my go to choice for cheap yet reliable nappies. This is just as bad as when they ripped Toobs and Polly Waffles away from my hot little hands,” said one long time user of the brand on Facebook.

Another complained of a “poo eruption” and claimed the nappies ride up on children while wearing them, which reportedly did not occur with the previous design.

A spokesperson from Coles told SmartCompany this morning the new version of the nappies was rolled out in December after extensive product testing with customers, who said they preferred the new design.

“The new and improved Comfy Bots outperformed the old Comfy Bot across 14 different attributes which included softness, ease of use, comfort and absorbency. Additionally, the Crawler, Toddler and Walker unisex nappies are now being made in Australia, where previously they were made in Thailand,” the spokesperson said.

Coles say sales numbers indicate the new products have been popular since launch.

However, for some customers, the memory of other highly unpopular product upgrades is front of mind when it comes to changes to products like Comfy Bots.

Over the past year shoppers have watched brands like Arnott’s completely backtrack on new product formulas. Meanwhile, a product redesign of Toblerone chocolate bars in the UK in 2016 showed just how far social media outrage can go when a product is visibly altered.

Brand advisor Michel Hogan says while customers should put their rage in perspective and remember brands don’t set out to ruin a product through upgrades, these cases are a lesson to other brands that the best product changes are the ones nobody notices.

“This is the equivalent of going to my coffee place every day and really enjoy it, and all of a sudden I go there and my coffee is really bitter—it’s like, ‘what the hell happened’,” Hogan says.

“The best case scenario is that there’s nothing for customers to notice because there is a seamless shift, no matter why it was done, and the quality and performance is unchanged (or improved).”

Hogan says businesses need to remember that customer loyalty is often built on reliability above exciting trends, and any changes to a product line should consider the ripple effect for customers relying on your product.

“It’s actually a really key component of customer experience, much more so than wowing people,” Hogan says.

“Now all of a sudden as a buyer, now I’m stuck—I have to reconsider if I switch brands, how does this work with my budget?”

With a change.org petition launched to plead with Coles to change back to the original nappies, Hogan says the next steps for the supermarket are simple.

“Figure out what went wrong and tell people. It’s crisis communications 101,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.