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Woolworths caught out on pricing for shopping bags

By Chris Mordd Richards - 26 July 2016 41

Woolworths shopping bags

A few days ago, I was at my local Woolworths getting groceries, and was paying at the self checkout.

At the checkout next to me, an elderly gentleman from out of state, on his first visit to Canberra, was also paying for his groceries.

All of a sudden, a Woolworths team member comes almost running up, and loudly accuses the gentleman of trying to steal the plastic bag, as he had not scanned it.

The gentleman protested that he didn’t know he had to pay for a bag, and then pointed out that there is no sign saying this, nor a price indicating how much the payment even is.

After he left, I did some subtle snooping, and confirmed that at all six self checkout registers, all had bags, but none had any signage indicating they were to be paid for, and none had a price listed either. See the photo above for an example of 1 of the checkouts. Note I have not cropped out any nearby sign from the photo, there really is none.

So are we all just meant to know that the bags cost money? How are out of state visitors meant to know? Tourists are still mainly used to not paying for bags where they come from, so I can understand the gentleman’s confusion and frustration at his experience.

Under ACT Fair Trading law, my understanding is that the lack of the price itself is actually a breach of the act, and I will be following this up with Fair Trading ACT and Woolworths Media inquiries. Meanwhile what do you Rioters think of this?

Update: I have now checked the rest of the ACT Woolworths stores with the help of a friend, and can confirm that NONE of their ACT stores have either signage indicating the bags must be paid for, or a price ticket on each bag dispenser showing the price. I will be updating Fair Trading on this and request they formally investigate the matter now since this appears to be a pattern of behavior by Woolworths not just a mistake at 1 store.

Update 2: Woolworths has been back in touch. For the moment, they have stripped all bags from all individual dispensers like in the photo ACT wide, and replaced them with bags in boxes near the checkouts which do have appropriate signage and pricing on them. They are looking to implement a policy change to add pricing to the individual dispensers instead, but apparently this was never originally planned for so they can’t just do it without putting in place a formal policy change first. I will update again once I have checked their stores this week and seen the changes for myself. ACT Fair Trading will be notified of what Woolworths have informed me of their actions in response.

What’s Your opinion?


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41 Responses to
Woolworths caught out on pricing for shopping bags
Lurker2913 8:30 pm 26 Jul 16

Coles has the price displayed on a white card above each bag dispenser. They also sell other more durable shopping bags too. I have shopped at Coles Gungalhin for the last eight months.

Bennop 5:53 pm 26 Jul 16

Good to see the RiotAct community engaged by such an important issue.

I understand the whole premise of this argument to be incorrect however. My understanding is that shops are under no obligation to price any item, unless there is specific legislation requiring it (alcohol/tobacco/drugs etc).

When we approach a vendor, the offer and exchange occurs then and there. We can offer 10c for the bags, or accept the 15c price that some shops have.

Its not illegal to have an item for sale, without a price tag/ticket price.

Mordd 5:22 pm 26 Jul 16

Oh! I haven’t yet, but my plan was to check some Coles stores this week, just to be fair, to see how they do it. I haven’t actually shopped at a Coles for a while so I am not sure what I will find, but I will let you know. If their social media person is clever though, they might already be forewarned and checking themselves, we shall see.

Mordd 5:20 pm 26 Jul 16

Wow, so many comments, Yes this has been an interesting story to reveal, and I understand this went all the way up the chain to the national manager.

I was dm’ing with Woolworths twitter social media person on sunday afternoon (interesting they were working then but makes sense) after I revealed the update to my original post on my media feeds, that the issue was ACT wide not just confined to a single store.

I then got a call from Woolworths complaints team late sunday, to inform me a level 1 escelation had been raised regarding it. I then got called at virtually 9am on the dot monday morning by the ACT regional manager to inform me of Woolworths response.

It’s interesting to note that out of the hundreds (low thousands?) of Woolworths staff, from senior management all the way down, that would have eyeballed this in the past, never occured to them that this was a problem. I have looked at it myself though how many times and never noticed before either.

My presumption, although I of course can’t prove it, is that it has been like this for quite a while, and no-one ever noticed who worked for Woolworths and escelated it or it never got pointed out to a staff member by a customer who then actually did something about it, until I tweeted at Woolworths about this 1 week ago originally. (anyone wanting to see the tweets back & forth, check my RA profile or just search for “Mordd” on twitter).

What’s even more ironic, is that apparently the original design never accounted for having price tags attached, which is why they were forced to pull all bags and replace with the boxes to ensure immediate compliance with the law. They actually have to get a policy change approved first to allow pricing on each dispenser before they can then action that, as the policy never and does not account for that currently. Amazing!

Chatting with the guy after (who asked not to be identified, but was happy to talk with me, and was happy for me to write about it, just without identifying him) he thought that Canberra just had really nice free plastic bags, and he thought it was pretty cool that we did, and that it was just a Canberra does it different thing. It never for a second occurred to him that they were for sale and that he was ‘stealing’ a bag. And why would it? Put yourself in his shoes and imagine.

@digitalchet – you are 100% on the money with the UX design – it should ask you if you are buying bags and how many as the 1st step, that’s the best suggestion i’ve heard so far about this!

rommeldog56 – it would be interesting to see someone prosecuted for stealing a bag in the absence of signage or pricing indicating them for sale, I would think that would be tossed out by the judge at the very first mention hearing, but it would be funny to see them try and do this.

I don’t encourage anyone to try stealing bags as a protest though, but if you do, let me know so I can write about it please (anonymous source or otherwise, your choice).

So far I have visited two Woolworths since yesterday morning, and both had all bags stripped from the dispensers and replaced with bags in boxes, with pricing attached. I will be checking further once Woolworths informs me they have actioned the pricing for the dispensers themself and confirmed this myself in at least 2-3 stores, I will then update you all again.

devils_advocate 4:26 pm 26 Jul 16

rommeldog56 said :

justin heywood said :

When I am in Coles I pack my groceries into a bag and just walk out.

If u mean a Coles plastic bag, it would be interesting to see if u could be charged for theft or shoplifting if there is no indication that the bags are for sale and must be scanned.

I have about a 50% strike rate of remembering to scan the bags, on the occasion that I use them. I genuinely forget because in Aldi, they scan your groceries for you, and at Costco they don’t have bags at all. So if I find myself in Colesworths, by definition something has already gone wrong.

Now, when I step on the scales I normally don’t get much change back from 100 (kg), and I so much hate shopping at Colesworths these days that on the rare occasions I find myself there, I don’t have a warm and inviting smile on my face. So some spotty faced teenager might be less willing to approach me about this (let’s face it, trivial) issue than they would a mild-mannered elderly gentleman. Or, this gentlemen was just unlucky to be on the receiving end of some vigilante shopkeeping. But despite having been forced into the self-serve checkout at Colesworths on far more occasions than I’d like, no pre-pubescent checkout overlords have ever challenged me about anything.

rommeldog56 2:31 pm 26 Jul 16

justin heywood said :

When I am in Coles I pack my groceries into a bag and just walk out.

If u mean a Coles plastic bag, it would be interesting to see if u could be charged for theft or shoplifting if there is no indication that the bags are for sale and must be scanned.

rommeldog56 2:21 pm 26 Jul 16

Yeah – nice impression of Canberra to leave a visitor with! “Welcome to Canberra – the Nation’s Capital Nanny State – watch out, or the plastic bag police will get you…”

rommeldog56 2:18 pm 26 Jul 16

justin heywood said :

When I am in Coles I pack my groceries into a bag and just walk out. Shoppers in Queanbeyan don’t have to pay for bags so why should we?

Oh no – please dont start the ACT Labor/Greens Govt plastic bag ban argument on here again. Its so painful. But I agree with your sentiment.

rommeldog56 2:16 pm 26 Jul 16

Woolworths at Erindale just has the plastic bags in boxes. No pricing on them and no warning that they are for sale so have to be scanned. But then again, it’s the worst Woolworths I’ve ever been in, so that’s no surprise.

madelini 2:01 pm 26 Jul 16

justin heywood said :

When I am in Coles I pack my groceries into a bag and just walk out. Shoppers in Queanbeyan don’t have to pay for bags so why should we?

Well, you could always do your shopping in Queanbeyan… or move there, if you resent the ACT laws.

John Moulis 12:21 pm 26 Jul 16

When I am in Coles I pack my groceries into a bag and just walk out. Shoppers in Queanbeyan don’t have to pay for bags so why should we?

digitalchet 12:01 pm 26 Jul 16

I’ve seen this kind of thing happening several times when people either forget to scan or simply don’t realise that these are purchasable goods. But in essence, this is actually an issue of thoughtless, or half-baked UX (user experience) design, not only through lack of signage but also through lack of intelligent design of the checkout software process itself. The ‘checkout wizard’ interface for all self-serve checkouts should inquire if the customer is buying bags (and how many), prior to—or even at the end of the product scanning phase and charge them accordingly and automatically without the need for scanning of bags.
This of course still requires the customer to be honest and declare that they’re using bags, but the fact that you’re confronted with the question in the wizard means you cannot feign ignorance.

madelini 9:58 am 26 Jul 16

Interesting that they pounce on the old man who didn’t know to scan his bag, but they let through so many people scanning their organic pink lady apples as the much cheaper red delicious…

rosscoact 9:42 am 26 Jul 16

Nice work. I wondered why there was no bags in the self serve yesterday.

Did you have a look at Coles too?

Lurker2913 8:54 am 26 Jul 16

I read somewhere (most likely a previous Riotact article about recycling them) that the fine is $27,000 for failing to charge for the bags. I have shopped at Woolworths on occasion and thought whilst the bags were meant to be “sold” they did not care about the fifteen cents due to the lack price signage.

I hope the Woolworths employee apologised to the gentleman. It would have been embarrassing to be chased down accused of theft. On a side note I know about a instance were someone was paid about $20,000 for being accused of stealing from a St Vincent de Paul Society store.

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