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Woolies and Coles suspend online orders as shoppers descend on sites

Woolworths fresh fruit and vegetable packaging. Woolworths Metro Marrickville. 3rd June 2020. Photograph Dallas Kilponen

Australia’s biggest supermarkets are buckling under the pressure to meet online orders amid escalating grocery stockpiling, with both Coles and Woolworths temporarily suspending home delivery and in-store pick up.

Concerns over exposure to large crowds in the wake of escalating fears over the spread of COVID-19 has seen a dramatic spike in online grocery sales.

Research from Nielsen Homescan found that online grocery sales increased by over 45 per cent in the last few weeks of February and early March, putting logistical pressure on retailers’ delivery networks alongside increasing pressure to keep shelves filled as consumers continue to stockpile grocery and medical items.

On Monday, Coles announced that all home delivery and Click&Collect orders placed for Wednesday March 18 and onwards will be cancelled with both options suspended for an undisclosed period of time.

Coles said its delivery vans will be focused on delivering to those “in genuine need, especially the most vulnerable and those isolated”.

Remote delivery will still be available through the Coles Online website in conjunction with a third party provider and the retailer said it is working with Australia Post to look at other options to ensure those who are isolated have access to groceries.

“The steps we are taking will help ensure people’s safety and wellbeing while also ensuring we can continue to provide food and groceries for the Australian community, particularly as we enter a phase where more people will be staying at home,” the retailer said in a statement.

Woolworths has also paused its online ‘Pick up’ service nationwide for an undisclosed amount of time due to temporary shortages on a number of items and its delivery service has been suspended in many areas.

Victoria appears to be the worst affected, with delivery services out of Victorian supermarkets suspended until further notice. The retailer said it is a necessary step to allow team members to prioritise restocking shelves.

“We saw an extraordinary level of demand for groceries across the country this weekend,” a Woolworths spokesperson said in a statement.

“Customers are encouraged to buy only what they need, as we’ll continue to receive extra orders of stock in our stores regularly.”

The retailer said it will continue to service online deliveries in selected metropolitan areas of Melbourne from its West Footscray Customer Fulfilment Centre and hopes to “turn deliveries back on” from other VIC stores as soon as possible.

“We understand the decision to suspend delivery services out of Victorian stores will be incredibly frustrating for our customers and apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

The retailer is currently processing refunds on existing orders for customers.

Assistance for vulnerable shoppers

Woolworths opened its doors to the elderly and people with disability from 7am-8am on Tuesday morning as part of a temporary shopping initiative to allow these customers better access to items.

Coles is also launching a dedicated Community Hour from Wednesday March 18, at the same time, exclusively for customers who hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card or Health Care Card. 

“There is enough for everyone if people shop as they normally shop,” Coles said. “We ask for customers to continue to respect and support our store team members and our Customer Care and Coles Online call centres, particularly if a product is unavailable or if the checkout queues are longer than normal.”

Increased violence towards retail staff

Both retailers have enforced strict product limits on items such as toilet paper, tissues, pasta and rice, with Aldi taking similar steps on Tuesday.

The discount supermarket has put a two unit purchase limit on pasta, flour, rice, paper towels, tissues and hand sanitisers, while toilet paper is limited to one pack per transaction.

Aldi Australia CEO Tom Daunt urged customers to be calm and respectful to staff after an increase in violence over the last few weeks.

“The increase in violence that retailers have seen over the past few weeks is absolutely unacceptable. We would ask everyone to be considerate and compassionate in the way they shop. This means civil behaviour, courtesy to those less able and respect for the employees of retail outlets. Quite frankly, we won’t tolerate anything less,” Daunt said.

“We understand your concerns, but buying more than is needed can mean that others will be left without. We want to let you know that there is more than enough food to go around; we just need your patience and support.”

The retailer has also following in the footsteps of Woolworths and Coles by suspending change of mind refunds on in demand products to discourage over-purchasing.

Inside FMCG is not affiliated with Coles or Woolworths. 

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