Australian retailers are calling on state governments to temporarily lift curfews on supermarket deliveries in order to ease shortages as a result of Coronavirus panic.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) was one of 25 industry bodies that met with Industry Minister Karen Andrews on Wednesday to discuss supply chain pressures.
The most immediate problem identified is the ability to get goods from distribution centres to supermarkets fast enough to keep shelves stocked, ARA’s outgoing executive director Russell Zimmerman told Inside Retail.
“The problem at the moment is there’s a bucket load of toilet paper, medical supplies, pasta and rice sitting in these distribution centres, the bigger problem is we cannot get it into the supermarkets,” Zimmerman said.
The curfews in place on delivery trucks prevent overnight deliveries and can result in shelves being left empty for several hours.
“Supermarket delivery curfews vary between different local government areas but they are usually between 10pm and 7am. We’re asking local government areas to release curfews for a couple of weeks until the panic is over.”
If a certain item at a supermarket runs low in the evening, in many cases the delivery will have to wait until the next morning, leaving shelves empty and consumers fretting, Zimmerman explained.
“Shoppers rush in thinking there’s a problem and start panic buying,” he said.
Curfews are put in place by local councils and, while this is not a Federal Government issue, Andrews is willing to do her utmost to help relieve the problem.
“We are going do everything that we possibly can … so when people walk into a supermarket they are actually seeing the shelves stocked,” Andrews told AAP.
“We are a very innovative nation and people will always look for alternatives so if you can’t find the hand sanitiser that you’re used to buying … your option is to use good old soap.”
Zimmerman, who is stepping down as director when former David Jones CEO Paul Zahra joins as chief executive in May, said that lifting the curfew could provide more work for casual staff as operations power through the night.
Woolworths halts ‘change of mind’ refunds
Over a week has passed since supermarkets started to see panicked consumers strip shelves bare of toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitiser, and it seems the situation will get worse before it gets better.
In a bid to curb buyers’ regret, Woolworths updated its returns policy on Wednesday.
The grocery will no longer accept change of mind refunds, “a necessary measure” it said, to discourage stockpiling and allow “more customers’ access to high demand essential products in reasonable quantities”.
“From 11 March 2020 until further notice, change of mind refunds and exchanges will not be available for a range of products that have been in higher than usual demand, including toilet paper, tissues, rice and pasta,” Woolworths said in a statement.
“In addition, rainchecks won’t be offered on any advertised products on promotion.”
The retailer will continue to offer a refund, exchange or repair on any faulty products that have been sold.
A spokesperson for the ACCC told Inside Retailthat Woolworths was well within its rights to pull the plug on these refunds.
“Under the Australian Consumer Law, retailers don’t have to give you a refund or exchange if you simply change your mind,” the spokesperson said.
Consumers can ask for a repair, replacement or refund on any product or service that fails to meet a consumer guarantee, under Australian Consumer Law.
This story originally appeared on sister site Inside FMCG.