Coles online chaos: Customer empty-handed after 5 hour wait

As the online grocery shopping demand for Coles and Woolworths has skyrocketed so have the complaints from customers.

In lockdown areas, particularly in New South Wales and Melbourne, supermarkets appear to be struggling to keep up with an influx of orders.

One Coles customer from Belmont in the Greater Newcastle region of NSW said she recently waited more than three hours for her click and collect order, only to be told her order was missing.

She shared her experience on the Coles Facebook page, explaining that she arrived to collect their order at 4pm for the 4pm to 6pm time slot.

She was asked to come back in an hour, but when she did the order still wasn’t ready and there were about 40 other people waiting too. At 9pm she was still left empty-handed. It wasn’t until 7am the next day that she was told her order was missing.

“I understand the team were busy, but you should not accept more orders than you can handle,” the woman wrote.

“I have been charged $138 for groceries that I waited 2.5 hours to NOT receive. Can someone please contact me to organise a refund?”

Coles supermarket at Brandon Park shopping centre in Glen Waverley in suburban Melbourne.
Coles customers have complained about the store losing online delivery and click and collect orders since demand increased 18 months ago. Source: Getty Images

Another Coles customer in Queensland, who was self-isolating awaiting a negative Covid-19 result said she waited five days for the supermarket giant to contact her, following numerous attempts to locate her $82 missing order.

Despite eventually hearing from Coles and being offered a refund and an $80 gift voucher, she’s since received neither.

“Coles hasn’t done any of the stuff they promised. My bank ended up refunding me for the transaction instead, as I had to lodge it as a dispute without goods,” the woman told Yahoo News Australia.

“Coles promised me the $80 compensation too and it’s not there either.”

Supermarkets under intense demand

Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Queensland University of Technology, Gary Mortimer says the growth in online shopping has forced supermarkets to speed up their online strategies.

“What we’ve identified is that Covid has certainly accelerated the growth of online shopping,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“Food and grocery online shopping really only accounted for about 1.5 per cent of total sales in relation to physical store sales.

“So in other words, 98.5 cents of every dollar was spent in a supermarket, but only about 1.5 cents was spent online. That’s now increased to close to six percent over the past 18 months.”

The sudden lift in demand states going in and out of lockdown can create some “challenging environments” for supermarkets, but they are doing something about it.

A Woolworths shopping centre in Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria. Source: Getty Images
Increased national lockdowns have created a "challenging environment" for supermarkets. Source: Getty Images

“Supermarkets are investing considerable amounts of money into upgrading their online infrastructure including the rolling out of automated pick centres, eStore fulfilment centres, as well as dark stores,” Mr Mortimer said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructures coming, but that’s the thing, it’s coming. At times when we have these big lifts in demand because of lockdown, it can be hard to meet that demand.

So what are supermarkets doing?

Both Coles and Woolworths have invested in technology and infrastructure dedicated to improving their online services.

With demand growing over the past 18 months, Coles has stepped up its online services.

In February 90-minute Click and Collect was launched and the supermarket giant has added Home Delivery services to more than 30 Coles supermarkets. There are plans to add a further 10 in NSW over the next four to six weeks.

Additionally, Coles has implemented 400 Next Day Delivery stores across the country with their partner services Yello and Door Dash.

“Coles Online is building on 20 years’ experience to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience and offer anytime, anywhere, anyhow shopping for customers,” a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

“We continue to see significant growth in demand for online grocery shopping and we are investing in customer experience and capacity, which is having a positive impact on customer satisfaction.”

In addition, Coles is currently constructing two state-of-the-art automated customer fulfilment centres (CFCs), in metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney.

Woolworths is also expanding after recently opening its fourth eStore in Maroochydore, Queensland.

The new facility is equipped with micro-fulfilment technology which will use robotic systems to sort and move products from automated storage units directly to team members who are handpicking customer orders.

Woolworths has created a number of new jobs including a Stock & Systems Manager, who is responsible for the technology and inventory. Source: Woolworths
Woolworths has created a number of new jobs in their eStores including a Stock & Systems Manager, who is responsible for the technology and inventory. Source: Woolworths

But will this be enough to facilitate the growing demand for online grocery shopping into the future?

“While we won’t see the same growth figures, I don’t believe we are going backwards in demand,” Mr Mortimer said.

“Quite possibly we may see demand stabilise anywhere between seven to 10 per cent of physical retail sales when it comes to food and groceries, but by that stage, I think the supermarkets will have sufficient infrastructure in place to respond to that demand.

“Once that demand stabilises, shoppers can expect a better experience.”

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