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Friday, 27 March 2020 12:14

Woolies appears to be getting in the way of social distancing

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Woolies appears to be getting in the way of social distancing Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One of Australia's two big supermarket chains appears to be putting hurdles in the way of residents falling in line with the restrictions on movement and spending most of their time at home, the so-called social distancing.

Woolworths has placed restrictions on the sale of canned vegetables which allow a shopper to buy just two tins in toto. This means that anyone who wants to buy two tins of corn and two of tomatoes — or anything else — would be allowed to take just one of each. Or else just take two of one vegetable.

Thus, anyone who needs both these ingredients would have to make a second trip to the supermarket — and spend additional time mingling with other shoppers — when he/she could have bought what was needed on one visit, were it not for the rather illogical regulations.

This writer had a personal experience of this on Thursday, when he attempted to buy two cans of creamed corn (meant for making soup) and two cans of tomatoes (meant for pasta) at the Woolworths in East Doncaster. Initially, I came to the checkout with four tins of tomatoes and two of corn, as there did not seem to be any rule against this.

On being told that one could take only two tins of tomatoes, I willingly gave the other two tins to the woman at the checkout counter. But then she said that I could not take more than two cans in all – which led me to inquire whether she was aware that corn and tomatoes could not be substituted for each other as each was an entirely different product.

This did not register with this woman so I approached the service desk in order to lodge a complaint. Another woman came up to hear the complaint, identifying herself as the assistant manager. When I told her that the rule being enforced was stupid, she gave me a response that I have heard many-a-time from Indian bureaucrats: "head office has made the rule. I will convey your comment to them."

The chief executive of Woolworths, Brad Banducci, was interviewed on Radio National this morning, but nothing was said about this kind of silly rule. The interviewer, Hamish McDonald, apparently knows nothing about the detail of the restrictions placed on shoppers, rules that force people trying to do the right thing, and sit at home, to keep coming to the supermarket again and again.

Or you could do what I did: I walked out to my car, put my shopping bags inside, and then came back and bought two more tins of tomatoes. The checkout man looked at the assistant manager as he swiped those two cans, but apart from glaring at me, she did nothing.

One can understand and applaud supermarkets for putting in place measures that attempt to stop panic-buying and providing separate times for the elderly and disabled to do their shopping. And one has no desire to tangle with harassed workers who are doing an excellent job.

But silly rules like the two-can vegetable rule should be condemned for what they are: ludicrous in the extreme.

Contacted for comment, a Woolworths spokesperson said: "The introduction of product limits has been a difficult but necessary decision to help us manage the unprecedented demand we’ve seen across our stores.

"They’re about ensuring as many customers as possible have access to food and groceries when they shop, while we work with suppliers to get more stock into our stores.

"We appreciate the limits are frustrating for customers and will look to wind them back as soon as we possibly can."

Which means a company that has as its slogan "the fresh food people", really considers tomatoes and corn — products from different companies, mind you — to be one and the same product. You can't argue with that kind of logic.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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