Woolworths is cutting opening hours at some of its supermarkets so that it can focus on delivering groceries to vulnerable customers across Australia.
The retailer said it would cut trading hours at 41 of its supermarkets to 11am-6pm from Thursday.
The supermarkets will become “priority delivery hubs”. Staff will use the hours they are closed to shoppers to pick online orders – with a focus on meeting the increased demand from priority customers such as the elderly and those hit by the coronavirus.
“We are focused on supporting the most vulnerable in the community during these challenging times,” Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said on Wednesday.
“To help support getting basic food and essentials to those that need it most, our teams have been doing everything they can to scale up online and home deliveries to the elderly, people with disabilities or those in mandatory self-isolation.”
The company has already introduced dedicated shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable at its more than 1000 Australian supermarkets. Rival Coles has done the same and, on Tuesday, expanded that to twice-weekly exclusive hours for health and emergency care workers.
It said on Tuesday it was also working out a new online priority service for vulnerable customers.
Other smaller supermarket chains, such as IGA and Aldi, have introduced similar measures to try to limit widespread panic buying.
Aldi is limiting the number of shoppers allowed in its aisles in selected stores, and has abandoned its famed “special buys” to focus on keeping its shelves stocked with staple goods.
The moves came after supermarket shelves across Australia were stripped of staples such as pasta, canned goods and toilet paper as consumers prepared for the coronavirus pandemic.
Both of the big chains suspended in-store pick-up and slashed home delivery services as the frenzied shopping went on. They have also already reduced their opening hours to allow staff to restock shelves amid buying that has easily surpassed even the busiest pre-Christmas weeks.
“We want to slow the panic down,” Woolworths managing director Claire Peters said at the time.
On Wednesday, Woolworths said it had also committed additional support to hunger relief charities such as OzHarvest, Foodbank and Fareshare amid the widening economic and health fallout from COVID-19. Coles has also stepped up support for its food relief charities.
It will also roll out further in-store health and safety measures for its staff. They include:
- A store greeter to wipe down baskets, trolleys and direct customers to the notice board for key social distancing, trading hours and product limit information;
- Closing some registers in self-serve and express check outs to provide additional space between customers in those areas;
- Installing plastic screens at registers, signs to provide information about social distancing in stores and additional cleaning and hygiene processes.