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Woolworths caught out on pricing for shopping bags

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.


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Woolworths caught out on pricing for shopping bags
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london 11:00 am 01 Aug 16

Strange that was called stealing but if they overcharge you it’s a mistake.
I recently purchased an item that was on special for $2 but was charged $3:55. As this item was in catalogue on Wednesday and I bought it on Friday have to wonder how many others were charged full price.
Happens regularly and people without the time to watch are paying too much for lots of things.
Went to new Franklins store and advertised meat was not marked at advertised price. Also had to haggle over other specials.

Mordd 2:23 pm 29 Jul 16

Grail said :

pink little birdie said :

What I discussed with Fair Trading – which they agreed with, is it’s a bit more a gray area with the bags, …

I am fairly confident that the junior public servant’s approach to that conversation would best be described as “humouring you”.

A summary of your complaint is almost certainly now on the tea room wall along with other humorous conversations they have been subjected to.

Because that’s the way it works.

Well, they put me through to a manager as the junior public servant who answered wasn’t game to discuss it, so maybe a mid-level public servant would be the more appropriate description. As to the gray area, they actually brought this up, not me. So take that how you will.

devils_advocate 10:25 am 29 Jul 16

Grail said :

pink little birdie said :

What I discussed with Fair Trading – which they agreed with, is it’s a bit more a gray area with the bags, …

I am fairly confident that the junior public servant’s approach to that conversation would best be described as “humouring you”.

A summary of your complaint is almost certainly now on the tea room wall along with other humorous conversations they have been subjected to.

Because that’s the way it works.

Having done my time as a grad in the national regulator, I can guarantee you this would not even come close to making the grade for the tea room wall.

gooterz 10:40 pm 28 Jul 16

Grail said :

Oops, I appear to have botched my attributions…

dungfungus said :

Woolworths are voluntarily signature to the Australian scanning code of practice. That is if an item scans up at a different price you get it for free..

Huh? I can’t figure out what tangent you’re on, or why – The bags scan correctly to the 15c which the signage elsewhere tells you they will scan at.

dungfungus said :

I’m also surprised they have the bags on the weighting machines,….

Huh? They don’t.
The photo above clearly shows the “weighting machine” (or “scales” as my distant ancestors learned to call it) is on the right hand side, nowhere near the bags which are down on the shelf in the middle.

I think I can clear this up. I made a reference to the scanning code of practice, because Fair Trading said there may be a similar code with the bag pricing, such as with the scanning code, and it may be an Industry Requirement that the bags price is clearly marked, for example how Coles apparently does it at the moment, and how Woolworths is planning to do it from now on.

As to the weighing machine, there is actually two. Once on the center console for weighing fruits and veg, and one on the lower left where the bags are which weigh your items as you place them in the bag to make sure you aren’t putting in items not scanned. However because this weighing the bags screws up literally 1/3rd of the time, Woolworths has for a long time left this scale disabled to make it easier for customers. This does make it easier to steal though, which is why Woolworths staff tend to watch more vigilantly at the Self Checkout than Coles staff do at theirs.

Have you been to Kmart where they pretty much accuse everyone of stealing?

They have their checkout at the back of the store and demand to go though the receipt at the front of the store.

In theory you don’t have to even take the receipt. it allows to you show you purchased them goods but if you got to the front and were unable to show it you could just say that you left it.

One would assume the bag checker person wouldn’t believe you if you said this as their current practice is to demand the receipt and put their hands all over the things you just purchased, which is totally an unfair demand.

Customers are obliged to show their bags but doing a check of the receipt and counting items is far more like the TSA than it should be.

HenryBG 10:30 pm 28 Jul 16

pink little birdie said :

What I discussed with Fair Trading – which they agreed with, is it’s a bit more a gray area with the bags, …

I am fairly confident that the junior public servant’s approach to that conversation would best be described as “humouring you”.

A summary of your complaint is almost certainly now on the tea room wall along with other humorous conversations they have been subjected to.

Because that’s the way it works.

Mordd 9:25 pm 28 Jul 16

Oops, I appear to have botched my attributions…

dungfungus said :

Woolworths are voluntarily signature to the Australian scanning code of practice. That is if an item scans up at a different price you get it for free..

Huh? I can’t figure out what tangent you’re on, or why – The bags scan correctly to the 15c which the signage elsewhere tells you they will scan at.

dungfungus said :

I’m also surprised they have the bags on the weighting machines,….

Huh? They don’t.
The photo above clearly shows the “weighting machine” (or “scales” as my distant ancestors learned to call it) is on the right hand side, nowhere near the bags which are down on the shelf in the middle.

I think I can clear this up. I made a reference to the scanning code of practice, because Fair Trading said there may be a similar code with the bag pricing, such as with the scanning code, and it may be an Industry Requirement that the bags price is clearly marked, for example how Coles apparently does it at the moment, and how Woolworths is planning to do it from now on.

As to the weighing machine, there is actually two. Once on the center console for weighing fruits and veg, and one on the lower left where the bags are which weigh your items as you place them in the bag to make sure you aren’t putting in items not scanned. However because this weighing the bags screws up literally 1/3rd of the time, Woolworths has for a long time left this scale disabled to make it easier for customers. This does make it easier to steal though, which is why Woolworths staff tend to watch more vigilantly at the Self Checkout than Coles staff do at theirs.

Mordd 9:20 pm 28 Jul 16

dungfungus said :

You have a point, but the shop still has a duty to provide the customer with relevant information and not make assumptions.
.

What “duty” would that be?

I went and checked the baked beans shelf – there is no sign there saying, “this isn’t free”. But somehow, Woollies’ customers apparently know that the stuff in the shop isn’t free and has to be paid for.
Same with every other shelf at Woollies, although at Bateman’s Bay there are several shelves with a sign saying something along the lines of, “Shoplifting is a crime”.

I have no idea why so many people want to talk about “laws” and “rights” and “duties” when the only issues Woollies face here are some very minor issues of staff training, communications and PR.

If the elderly people with infirm minds need advice, I would advise avoiding the self-scan and get the trained professional to do it for you.

What I discussed with Fair Trading – which they agreed with, is it’s a bit more a gray area with the bags, because this is something traditionally always provided for free with a purchase, and only recently has become a saleable commodity, and is not yet the standard in Australia as we are ahead of the pack on this. Therefore it is not a black and white case as with Baked Beans for example that one should automatically assume the bag is for sale. You can make the argument, but it is a very gray area in comparison because for such a long time, the bag at the checkout was a free commodity.

grump 1:00 pm 28 Jul 16

mountain meet molehill, and on that note – “escalate” and “escalation”

HenryBG 12:59 pm 28 Jul 16

Oops, I appear to have botched my attributions…

dungfungus said :

Woolworths are voluntarily signature to the Australian scanning code of practice. That is if an item scans up at a different price you get it for free..

Huh? I can’t figure out what tangent you’re on, or why – The bags scan correctly to the 15c which the signage elsewhere tells you they will scan at.

dungfungus said :

I’m also surprised they have the bags on the weighting machines,….

Huh? They don’t.
The photo above clearly shows the “weighting machine” (or “scales” as my distant ancestors learned to call it) is on the right hand side, nowhere near the bags which are down on the shelf in the middle.

HenryBG 12:55 pm 28 Jul 16

dungfungus said :

You have a point, but the shop still has a duty to provide the customer with relevant information and not make assumptions.
.

What “duty” would that be?

I went and checked the baked beans shelf – there is no sign there saying, “this isn’t free”. But somehow, Woollies’ customers apparently know that the stuff in the shop isn’t free and has to be paid for.
Same with every other shelf at Woollies, although at Bateman’s Bay there are several shelves with a sign saying something along the lines of, “Shoplifting is a crime”.

I have no idea why so many people want to talk about “laws” and “rights” and “duties” when the only issues Woollies face here are some very minor issues of staff training, communications and PR.

If the elderly people with infirm minds need advice, I would advise avoiding the self-scan and get the trained professional to do it for you.

madelini 11:37 am 28 Jul 16

HiddenDragon said :

What a lot of hoo-ha over nothing! For starters, the bags don’t look like the bags that are normally given out. It would be strange to presume those thicker plastic bags were free.
Many years ago (over thirty probably to show how behind the times we were) I was in another country and the bag I was about to use wasn’t free and I didn’t know. I didn’t make a fuss about it as people have here; instead I think I paid for it and then continued to reuse it so I wouldn’t pay again. I didn’t see any problem with that. There is no problem here; either pay for it or bring your own bag. Such an unnecessary fuss over nothing. Those bags in the photograph don’t look like the free lightweight bag and the average person would know this. They look like bags that one pays for.

You have a point, but the shop still has a duty to provide the customer with relevant information and not make assumptions. When you provide a store that caters to interstate and elderly patrons, they should be obliged to provide them with the information so that there is no miscommunication.

It’s also why there are “do not microwave tin foil” signs on apple pies – there is a duty to the lowest common denominator, not to common sense.

gooterz 11:46 pm 27 Jul 16

madelini said :

rommeldog56 said :

Nilrem said :

John Moulis said :

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.

Can you link to anything supporting that? I have done some basic research, and it appears they are required to price them, and Fair Trading has indicated they will investigate, so I presume that means a *possible* breach of the act has occurred.

I think the poster above is getting confused with the ‘invitation to treat’ interpretation of contractual law, which says there is no agreement until and unless there is an offer and acceptance; and the trade practices act/state and territory fair trading laws which effectively override the common law of contract.

Even if we were to accept that there was no legal requirement to price things, there IS a legal requirement to not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct.

And then, its a very long leap from that to proving theft. It’s going to be a bit difficult for the shop to positively prove intent, which is a required mental element when alleging theft. Bearing in mind the circumstances of the case, someone who diligently paid for all items from the shop and then helped themselves to a plastic bag on the face of it would not have intent, and then if the store met their burden and shifted the onus to the defendant, they could very easily raise honest and reasonably mistake.

Also I doubt the police/DPP are going to prioritise the prosecution of one or more 15c bag thefts.

In summary, Woolworths have contempt for their customers and it shows in how they run their business.

Thanks for clarifying that, i believe your explanation to be correct as I understand things.

That is in fact the exact element of consumer/contract law I am referring to. I don’t see it as confusion. It is consistent with my argument that they are not required to display a price tag.

If you have a reference somewhere that says a store must display a price tag, I stand corrected.

I agree that the suggestion that a theft occurred is inappropriate, but I did not think that was the key argument: it was whether Woolworths had price tags for their bags- and also whether they were required to.

Firstly, I would like to note the ACT Regional Managers own words to me on Monday morning, which was that Woolworths believed the situation I uncovered was quote “not in compliance”. Regrettably, I did not clarify whether he meant Internal Policy or Legal compliance – I will follow this up – however Woolworths themselves believe the situation as it was is not acceptable, hence their response.

As to the legal aspect. I have just been on the phone with ACT Fair Trading to get a better understanding of it all. There are four possible aspects to I am informed following that conversation.

1st. Misleading & deceptive conduct, ‘facts known only to them, and the facts are relevant to the decision’.

2nd. False and misleading representations, with regards to ‘the price of the goods or services’.

3rd. Possible requirement under the Plastic Bag Ban legislation regarding the sale of the replacement bags.

4th. Possible requirement under Industry Code, similar to the price scanning policy when prices don’t match.

I have been told my written summary of the situation will be investigated to see if any of those 4 points apply which has been sent to them.

Will update further as more information comes to hand.

There are 3 levels to this.

Woolworths has to stick within the laws, acts and common law which is extended from the English common law system which came from Rome.

Woolworths are voluntarily signature to the Australian scanning code of practice. That is if an item scans up at a different price you get it for free. However this isn’t against the law not to do this, you might have grounds on breach of contract though this would be a civil matter.

Woolworths would have their own standards that apply the above two items and more. This would also include things like the types of clothes that employees wear. If an employee started to wear shorts and thongs to work and you complained to Woolworths you would get the same reaction definitely “not in compliance [with Woolworths standards]”.

However one would hope that Barr and his mob aren’t going to arrest someone for wearing shorts and thongs to work…
I’m also surprised they have the bags on the weighting machines, I’m pretty sure they usually turn them off. I guess having the bags on them is a good way to know they are off.

Mr Gillespie 8:43 pm 27 Jul 16

If they hassle you into paying for the bags, give them the big finger!

MERC600 7:40 pm 27 Jul 16

Well you can grab those plastic bags in the veggy section for nuthin. So the interstate elderly gent probably thought the same with the green ones.
Sue ’em for damages to his well being and whatever else…. ‘call bloomers”

HenryBG 6:09 pm 27 Jul 16

Words almost fail me. But not quite.

1. There is no “deceptive conduct”. Normal people know that the bags need to be scanned. Like much else you buy, they have a barcode. There are no “facts only known to Woolworths”. They aren’t offering a product for sale knowing something about it that would affect your decision to buy it.

2. There are no “false and misleading representations”. The shop hasn’t promised you the bag will cook dinner for you or wipe out even the most stubborn stains.

3. Plastic bag legislation. Irrelevant. These bags which are for sale aren’t “plastic bags”. Read the Act.

Addendum. Seriously, you have spare time to be indulging in this sort of nonsense?

Maya123 5:41 pm 27 Jul 16

What a lot of hoo-ha over nothing! For starters, the bags don’t look like the bags that are normally given out. It would be strange to presume those thicker plastic bags were free.
Many years ago (over thirty probably to show how behind the times we were) I was in another country and the bag I was about to use wasn’t free and I didn’t know. I didn’t make a fuss about it as people have here; instead I think I paid for it and then continued to reuse it so I wouldn’t pay again. I didn’t see any problem with that. There is no problem here; either pay for it or bring your own bag. Such an unnecessary fuss over nothing. Those bags in the photograph don’t look like the free lightweight bag and the average person would know this. They look like bags that one pays for.

fabforty 4:53 pm 27 Jul 16

Nice work, Mordd.

Mordd 3:13 pm 27 Jul 16

rommeldog56 said :

Nilrem said :

John Moulis said :

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.

Can you link to anything supporting that? I have done some basic research, and it appears they are required to price them, and Fair Trading has indicated they will investigate, so I presume that means a *possible* breach of the act has occurred.

I think the poster above is getting confused with the ‘invitation to treat’ interpretation of contractual law, which says there is no agreement until and unless there is an offer and acceptance; and the trade practices act/state and territory fair trading laws which effectively override the common law of contract.

Even if we were to accept that there was no legal requirement to price things, there IS a legal requirement to not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct.

And then, its a very long leap from that to proving theft. It’s going to be a bit difficult for the shop to positively prove intent, which is a required mental element when alleging theft. Bearing in mind the circumstances of the case, someone who diligently paid for all items from the shop and then helped themselves to a plastic bag on the face of it would not have intent, and then if the store met their burden and shifted the onus to the defendant, they could very easily raise honest and reasonably mistake.

Also I doubt the police/DPP are going to prioritise the prosecution of one or more 15c bag thefts.

In summary, Woolworths have contempt for their customers and it shows in how they run their business.

Thanks for clarifying that, i believe your explanation to be correct as I understand things.

That is in fact the exact element of consumer/contract law I am referring to. I don’t see it as confusion. It is consistent with my argument that they are not required to display a price tag.

If you have a reference somewhere that says a store must display a price tag, I stand corrected.

I agree that the suggestion that a theft occurred is inappropriate, but I did not think that was the key argument: it was whether Woolworths had price tags for their bags- and also whether they were required to.

Firstly, I would like to note the ACT Regional Managers own words to me on Monday morning, which was that Woolworths believed the situation I uncovered was quote “not in compliance”. Regrettably, I did not clarify whether he meant Internal Policy or Legal compliance – I will follow this up – however Woolworths themselves believe the situation as it was is not acceptable, hence their response.

As to the legal aspect. I have just been on the phone with ACT Fair Trading to get a better understanding of it all. There are four possible aspects to I am informed following that conversation.

1st. Misleading & deceptive conduct, ‘facts known only to them, and the facts are relevant to the decision’.

2nd. False and misleading representations, with regards to ‘the price of the goods or services’.

3rd. Possible requirement under the Plastic Bag Ban legislation regarding the sale of the replacement bags.

4th. Possible requirement under Industry Code, similar to the price scanning policy when prices don’t match.

I have been told my written summary of the situation will be investigated to see if any of those 4 points apply which has been sent to them.

Will update further as more information comes to hand.

devils_advocate 2:31 pm 27 Jul 16

rommeldog56 said :

That is in fact the exact element of consumer/contract law I am referring to. I don’t see it as confusion. It is consistent with my argument that they are not required to display a price tag.

If you have a reference somewhere that says a store must display a price tag, I stand corrected.

I agree that the suggestion that a theft occurred is inappropriate, but I did not think that was the key argument: it was whether Woolworths had price tags for their bags- and also whether they were required to.

Saying that no binding agreement arises under contract law, is no answer to an allegation that the consumer was misled or deceived under the competition and consumer act or mirror state/territory legislation. It’s long since been established that misleading and deceptive conduct includes acts of silence or omission.

It’s possible that neither party has broken the law; one party has committed a technical breach of the law; or that both parties have committed a technical breach of the law.

But the older gentlemen would never be prosecuted and the large national corporation should know better, and moreover train its staff better. If you are going to employ twelve year olds you can’t complain when they fail to demonstrate common sense.

Mordd 12:28 pm 27 Jul 16

Richard Farmer said :

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.

I tweeted your suggestion at the Woolworths social media account late last night:

Mordd @Mordd_IndyMedia Jul 27
@woolworths Could self checkout be made to automatically ask customer if they are buying any bags before groceries are scanned? #UXdesign

They replied today:
Woolworths @woolworths Jul 27
@Mordd_IndyMedia We’ve forward your suggestion onto the relevant team for consideration regarding future system upgrades. Thanks Mordd.

The tweet I sent to them also got 1 new ‘like’ overnight as well (which is good for my small number of followers).

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