Woolies breaches ACCC agreement
Woolworths and its rival Coles agreed to limit their fuel discounts for shoppers to four cents per litre in a deal struck with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in December last year.
But only months after the undertaking was forged, the ACCC took the retailers to court alleging they were in breach of this agreement by offering larger discounts to shoppers who also spend money on groceries in their service stations.
In the case of Woolworths, the ACCC argued this breach occurred over two periods.
The first was from January 1 to March 9 this year, while the second dated from March 10.
On Monday, the Federal Court found that Woolworths was in breach of the agreement in the first instance but not in the second.
The court also dismissed the ACCC’s claim against Coles.
In the instance where Woolworths was found to be in breach, the ACCC had argued that customers were able to obtain an eight cent per litre discount on fuel if they spent at least $30 in a Woolworths supermarket as well as $5 or more at a petrol station.
The ACCC said this fell squarely within the terms of the undertaking as “neither component of the total discount could be obtained unless the customer had spent the requisite sum in a supermarket”.
Woolworths, though, made a number of arguments as to why it did not breach the agreement, including that the discount offers should be regarded as “separate”.
But on Monday, Justice Alan Robertson disagreed with the supermarket giant, saying it was in breach.
This was because the total discount was not only double the four cents agreed to with the ACCC but that it was also contingent on customers spending money on non-fuel goods.
Likewise, in relation to the Coles case, Justice Robertson said although the total discount that customers were potentially able to get at the fuel pump was well above the four cents – at 14 cents per litre – the full offer was not linked to supermarket purchases.
“In my opinion, four cents per litre of the offer only was contingent on supermarket purchases and 10 cents per litre of the offer only was contingent on an acquisition of goods or services from Coles Express.”
Therefore, he found they were not in breach.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) commended the ACCC.
“Without the ACCC keeping a close eye on this agreement, fair competition would be destroyed, making it virtually impossible for independent retailers to have a fair go,” ARA Executive Director Russell Zimmerman said.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury expressed similar sentiments.
“Coles and Woolworths will charge who-knows-what price if we have an industry in the long-term that does not have healthy competition, that does not have independents helping to push the price down every single day,” he said.
The worst case scenario for many retailers came to fruition on Monday afternoon, when Victorian Premier Daniel Andr… https://t.co/zyRB162Yip2 days ago
Retail in Melbourne to be forced to close from 11:59pm this Wednesday. Contactless click-and-collect and online del… https://t.co/8um79lnp763 days ago