Ask the expert: Coles tackles your supermarket questions

 

Supermarkets are on the frontline of COVID-19, working to maintain supply for shoppers nationwide and providing much needed job opportunities for stood down workers.

But it hasn't always been easy, with panic buying stripping shelves bare and retailers having to bring in new rules to help ensure everyone gets what they need.

Matthew Swindells, Chief Operations Officer at Coles, answered your questions about the situation right now.

Here's what he had to say:

 

Q. Should staff at stores be wearing masks/gloves?

A. We follow the Department of Health's COVID-19 Hygiene Practices for Supermarkets and encourage our team to sanitise their hands regularly and not to wear masks.

The Department guidelines state that washing hands regularly and using hand sanitiser provides more protection than wearing gloves.

It also states that there is little evidence to support use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission of viruses.

Q. Toilet paper used to cost 35-50 cents maximum per standard role, now they cost between 80 and 95 cents per standard role, including at Coles. WHY?

A. We have been focused on getting hold of as much toilet paper as we can from our suppliers, so we have asked them to prioritise the lines they can make the fastest. This means we haven't been able to keep in stock every brand and every pack size you might be used to seeing.

One of our most popular lines of toilet paper is Quilton 20 pack 3-ply. We are still stocking this pack and the price remains unchanged at $10, which is 50c per roll.

Q. When will Coles Online start again, we are over 70 and advised NOT to go out at all, we will need to shop at some stage!

A.. We understand that given the current restrictions it can be challenging for some of our customers to visit our shops, so we are looking at a number of ways to deliver food and grocery essentials to vulnerable members of the community.

Many of our customers are reaching out to friends, family and neighbours to do their shopping for them, and to make this easier we have opened up Community Hour from 7-8am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to those shopping on behalf of vulnerable people. All they need to do is bring your government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card or other valid ID when they visit our store.

This week, we have launched is the Coles Online Priority Service (COPS) for vulnerable customers. We already have 60,000 active customers, and we aim to roll the service out more broadly in coming days.

If you need further assistance, the Federal Government has advised that anyone over the age of 65 can access myagedcare.gov.au which helps elderly Australians find and access the right government-funded aged care services.

Q. Every second self-serve checkout should be closed. Our local Coles manager instructed my daughter to open them all up, and keep them open, because the store was getting busy.

A. We are following the Federal Dept of Health guidelines on social distancing. These guidelines allow for people to be closer than 1.5m for limited periods and include:

- limiting face-to-face interactions to less than 15 minutes

- limiting close proximity interactions (less than 1.5 metres between people) to 2 hours

- where possible, maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres between people

To help customers maintain a safe distance from each other, we close every second self-scanning checkout when stores are quieter.

When stores are busier, we turn them all on to make customers spend the shortest amount of time possible in proximity to others shoppers and team members.

We have also increased the frequency with which we sanitise the terminals.

The safety of our customers and team members is our number one priority, which is why we are changing the way we operate to follow the latest expert advice from the Dept of Health.

Q. Why aren't supermarkets working to get back online shopping so that the masses are not in the supermarket spreading the virus?

A. We have been focused on restocking our supply chain so that we can fulfil online orders for customers, and we are now prioritising online orders for the most vulnerable members of our community to ensure that we service those who need it most first.

We are spending an additional $1 million a week in cleaning our stores, distributing 12,000 litres of hand sanitiser to our team and we have asked customers to follow social distancing guidelines when in store to ensure it remains a safe place for them to shop and for our team members to work.

Q. Why aren't hand baskets and trolley handles being sanitised after every individual use? This freaks me out.

A. Every one of our supermarkets has a team member greeting customers on arrival, who wipes down every trolley and basket with sanitiser between customer uses. We also have sanitising wipes available for customers who wish to wipe down their own trolleys or baskets themselves.

Q. I have not been able to find any toilet rolls for weeks now. I am 84 and trying to self isolate. How can I get toilet rolls? All the shelves are empty when I get there any time of day.

A. We're working hard to restock toilet paper and there is more of it available in our stores than in recent weeks, but we know it's still not perfect.

If you're not able to make it into stores for our Community Hour at 7-8am on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, you can send a friend or family member to do your shopping for you. Just give them your government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card or other valid ID to show when they visit the store.

Q. Why have all you supermarkets stopped doing deliveries. We are told to stay home, so we need access to having our items delivered to avoid having too many people still going to supermarkets. Even click and collect has been suspended, but again, this would reduce the numbers of people wandering around supermarkets. Also, the one hour shop for emergency workers is inherently dangerous, as these people are unfortunately the ones that are continually being exposed to COVID-19.

A. Please see our earlier answers on the availability of home delivery.

Health care workers and Emergency Services personnel are among the best-informed people in the community regarding how to stay safe.

By providing a dedicated time for them to shop, we can help them stay focused on the important role they are playing.

Q. Being 82 and 73 my wife and I are considered vulnerable. We are glad to see Coles deliveries back for us. But why no chicken? Why no pork? Why only buy lamb chops in bulk? Surely these products are not in short supply and should be available online. It means while we can buy most things on line we still have to disobey instructions and risk going to the supermarket for products we would call basics .

A. As we have brought Coles online back up for customers, we have increased the range of products on offer and now have more than 15,000 lines available.

Q. I was shopping last Friday and noticed people were still mass buying. One women's trolly was completely filled with water! Can Coles please put a reasonable limit on all items during the Covid-19 pandemic? E.g. six bottles of water, two of each dairy item. I was buying chicken wings and asked if I was allowed two kilos. The reply was I could have 10 kilos if I wanted. This is greedy and not necessary. I am a nurse so thank you for the early shopping time.

A. Thanks for all the important work you're doing to help the community stay safe and healthy.

We want customers to be able to do their shopping as normally as possible, so we're only applying limits in areas where we have seen regular outages.

As our stock position continues to improve and customers shop at more regular levels, we hope we'll soon be able to start reducing the number of products on which we need to limit purchases.

Q. I can't find any kitchen wipes or antibacterial hand wipes (and obviously no hand sanitiser). Do deliveries arrive at different times during the day? My local store said overnight deliveries were no longer arriving on time. Does this mean you can only find these items if you happen to be in store when a delivery is made?

A. After toilet paper, antibacterial items have been some of the most in-demand products in our stores. We have shipments of hand sanitiser on their way to our distribution centres and we'll be getting them out to stores soon, but demand is continuing to outstrip supply so we'll need to maintain purchase limits for now.

The increased volumes going through our supply chain mean that we've had to be more flexible about when deliveries arrive at stores. Local councils have been helpful in easing restrictions so that we can get more trucks into stores, and our teams are working hard to get delivered stock onto our shelves as quickly as possible.

 

Originally published as Ask the expert: Coles tackles your supermarket questions



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