Woolworths shoppers fume over 'wasteful' change – why is it happening?

Woolworths customers have expressed their frustration online after Covid-19 implications caused the retailer to automatically enable substitution in online orders.

The change, which has been implemented in New South Wales and the ACT, was announced to customers in an email from Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci on Wednesday.

“We know this isn’t ideal, but it does mean there’s less chance of missing out on an essential item,” he wrote.

However, some customers who have been impacted by the change are not impressed.

Woolworths icon on phone in front of Woolworths storefront logo. Source: Getty Images
Customers have used Facebook to express their concerns regarding the substitution change. Source: Getty Images

“We are an allergy family and I chose products because they are allergy safe,” a Sydney customer said.

“I appreciate this may be due to issues with staffing and distribution with Covid, can I kindly suggest the option is returned?” she wrote.

The customer also added she had to write notes in each individual item for the personal shopper, explaining her family's allergies so a suitable substitution could be provided.

Another customer posted on the Woolworths Facebook page claiming the substitution change was not sustainable.

“How is forced substitution supposed to save stock levels, especially if it increases waste as the substituted items may not be suitable?” he asked.

A third NSW customer also got in touch with Woolworths on Facebook, commenting he missed out on his favourite snack due to the changes.

“Why can’t I choose not to have substitutions delivered in NSW? 100% of people surveyed would rather not receive Cadbury Fruit and Nut as a substitute for plain old Dairy Milk,” he joked.

Woolworths customers have previously hit out at the retailer as online order demand has caused late and cancelled deliveries.

Woolworths responds to online order frustration

In response to customer disappointment regarding the removal of the "no substitution" option in NSW and ACT online orders, Woolworths has been proactive in responding to customers.

In comments left on customers’ Facebook posts, Woolworths has been consistent in stating they understand the frustration that customers are facing.

“We’re sorry to hear that substitution has been turned on for your online orders,” a supermarket representative wrote in one comment.

“We definitely understand your frustration and we’ve gone ahead and put your feedback through to our online team for their awareness and review,” another wrote in a separate comment.

“We understand how disappointing this would be,” they said in a third comment.

The substitution decision follows the announcement that 3300 Woolworths workers have been forced into isolation.

Automatic substitution change explained

In an email sent to Woolworths customers on Wednesday, CEO Brad Banducci addressed the substitution situation.

“If you’re shopping online in NSW and the ACT, you’ll notice that currently we are automatically allowing substitutions on all orders given the demand pressure,” he wrote.

“Unlike 18 months ago, this is less to do with surges in customer demand (aka ‘the toilet paper wars’) and more because of extra pressure on our distribution centres, with over 500 of those team members needing to self-isolate as close or casual contacts.

“The good news is that these team members, having tested negative, are starting to be cleared to come back to work."

Managing Director and CEO of Woolworths Food Group Brad Banducci. Source: AAP
Brad Banducci explained why the substitution option was switched on for all online orders in a recent email to customers. Source: AAP

The email also announced the Woolworths Bricks collectable program, which starts on Wednesday, is being postponed to a September 22 release date in NSW and the ACT, to help teams prioritise food and essential items.

Mr Banducci has assured customers a full allocation of Woolworths Bricks has been set aside so nobody misses out.

The CEO ended his email by acknowledging the mental toll Covid-19 is having on shoppers.

“I read a lot of customer feedback and the sense of frustration due to Delta is palpable,” he said.

“We also understand that the current challenges are having an impact on our collective mental health, so it is more important than ever to look out for each other and ourselves.”

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