Coles shoppers fire up over detail in 40-year-old photo

Australia's major supermarkets don't look like this anymore.

A photo taken inside a Coles store in the 1980s has infuriated customers over a specific detail. In the widely shared image, about a dozen staffed checkouts can be seen, which shoppers have pointed out is in stark contrast to today's major supermarkets, where self-service machines dominate.

"Shock. Every one of these checkouts is open," a shopper wrote online of the old Coles New World supermarket in Belmont, NSW, while another commented, "Yeah they need to bring back old-fashioned customer service again."

Coles checkouts in Belmont, NSW, in the 1980 (left) and a Coles self-service checkout (right)
Coles checkouts in the 1980s were a lot different to the self-service machines that are prevalent in supermarkets today. Source: State Library of Victoria/Getty Images

Scores of others said the photo depicts "how it should be" and claimed it's proof that self-service checkouts are taking jobs away. "All those people being employed, adding to the economy," one shopper commented, and someone else responded, "The good days, jobs for humans not scanners and robots."

Are self-service checkouts really killing jobs?

Responding to questions about whether self-service checkouts are putting people out of work, a spokesperson for Coles told Yahoo News Australia the retailer has "never been more committed to supporting Australians with employment opportunities", having recruited an additional 22,000 team members over the past five years.

Meanwhile, in an email to customers last week, Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci also denied that a focus on technology is coming at the expense of staff. "Self-service checkouts and the perception that this results in a reduction in team members in-store is a passionate dinner table topic in our house," he stated. "The fact is, we employ more people than ever before and, with the popularity of online ordering, this year we've hired 5,500 personal shoppers so there's more jobs at Woolies not less."

Coles self-service checkout
Love them or hate them, it looks like self-service checkouts are here to stay at Coles and other Aussie supermarkets. Source: Getty Images

Coles defends self-service checkouts

Expanded on the rollout of self-service checkouts, the Coles spokesperson said the majority of customers prefer them over staffed registers. "Self-service checkouts are a great option for customers because they offer convenience and efficiency when shopping in our stores to help customers check out more quickly and pack their bags the way they like," the spokesperson explained. "Because of this they are the checkout of choice for more than two in three customers, and we continue to see these numbers increase. Of course, if customers prefer to be served by a team member, someone will always be available in the service area to serve them."

Some Facebook users backed Coles' decision to install self-service checkouts, with one commenting on the viral photo from the '80s, "What a waste of resources. Today's systems are much more efficient."

Supermarket staff abused in alarming trend

While Coles and Woolies refute claims they're cutting jobs, Australia's biggest supermarkets have been forced to address customer attacks on staff. "During the pandemic, our team members were often considered frontline heroes," Banducci said in his email to shoppers. "Sadly that goodwill has fallen away and, while the vast majority of customers do the right thing, we're seeing an unacceptable rise in team abuse."

Meanwhile, Coles staff at a number of "high-risk" Aussie stores are being fitted with new body cameras in a bid to combat escalating levels of abuse. The retailer confirmed to Yahoo that the surveillance will be rolled out in 30 shops across four states including South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.

"Body-worn cameras only record once activated," a Coles spokesperson said. "If a team member feels unsafe in a situation, they can turn on their body camera and will inform the customer that they are turning it on for safety."

Yahoo understands the cameras can send live footage back to management and are even able to notify police directly of dangerous situations, a measure which has already been taken a number of times according to Coles.

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