Coles will extend dedicated “community hour” shopping at its supermarkets to a new group – emergency and healthcare workers.
The twice-weekly exclusive shopping period will be introduced on Thursday and applies to doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital and ambulance staff, police, firefighters and emergency service workers.
It comes as Coles and other supermarkets have struggled to keep up with widespread panic buying during the coronavirus outbreak. Limits have been imposed on staples such as toilet paper, pasta and canned goods, while exclusive shopping was introduced for the elderly and disabled after many found they could not get even basic supplies.
Consumer watchdog the ACCC moved on Tuesday to allow the major supermarket rivals amnesty to coordinate supply and logistics so vulnerable consumers aren’t left empty handed amid unprecedented coronavirus panic-buying.
Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, IGA supplier Metcash and others would be given temporary permission to cooperate when liaising with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers to keep their shelves adequately stocked during the pandemic.
In a statement, Chairman Rod Sims said the new agreement was “essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem”.
Across Australia, the first hour of Tuesday and Thursday trade at Coles supermarkets from March 26 will be for emergency workers. They will need to show an Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency card, workplace ID or be wearing their work uniform to gain entry.
“We know these workers are incredibly busy and hope that providing them with a dedicated hour at the beginning of the day to shop will make their lives a little easier and support the vital work they are doing every day,” Coles chief executive Steven Cain said.
Elderly and vulnerable shoppers will still get exclusive access for the first hour of shopping on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They are required to show government-issued pension or healthcare cards.
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The supermarket chain has also amended its hours during the coronavirus outbreak. Its shops are open from 7am-8pm daily.
The early closure allows to shelves to be restocked and supermarkets cleaned. Coles said it was spending an extra $1 million a week on cleaning since the COVID-19 outbreak worsened.
It has also employed extra security guards to maintain order in the aisles.
“We are also incredibly proud of our team members in-store who are working hard to get stock on to shelves as fast as possible, create a safe place to shop, and provide our customers with great service,” Mr Cain said.
“We ask that our customers continue to show them kindness and patience.”
Coles and other major supermarkets have also limited or suspended home delivery and click-and-collect services during the panic buying.
The company said on Tuesday it was in the early stages of rolling out a new online priority service for vulnerable customers.
Woolworths notices ‘moderation’ in shopping behaviour
Rival Woolworths said on Tuesday it had already introduced a priority help service online for the elderly, people with disabilities and those in self-isolation due to the virus.
“We’ve been pleased to see early signs of moderation in shopping behaviour in our supermarkets over the weekend and it’s heartening to see customers respecting product limits in store so more members of their local community have access to the items they need.”
Innovation from a small convenience store
A Sydney convenience store with 18,000 Instagram followers has found a novel way of stopping “greedy” coronavirus-panicked toilet paper hoarders.
Rather than strictly limiting how many loo rolls customers can buy amid the COVID-19 crisis, Redfern Convenience Store’s owner Hazem Sedda has adopted a different tack.
The inner Sydney store is still allowing patrons to purchase a two-pack for $3.50, but a second pack will bring the total price to a whopping $99.
“Don’t be greedy,” a sign posted in front of the coveted stock reads.
“Think of the other people.”