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Woolworths Attacked For 'Poor Execution' Of Elderly Shopping Hour

Seniors and pension card holders have tried to make the most of a dedicated shopping hour set up by the major supermarket chain for vulnerable people in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths supermarkets for the dedicated shopping hour, which runs nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays, before opening to everyone else.

But not everyone was happy. At Woolworths Marrickville in Sydney's west shoppers were complaining that some stock wasn't available.

More widely, the elderly and family members vented their frustrations on the supermarket giant's Facebook page, complaining that the initiative was 'poorly executed'.

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"You had the elderly line up at some of your stores this morning from 7am for nothing... no toilet rolls. What the hell is wrong with you? These poor old folk and disabled people paid for your stupidity. You advertised the stores would be restocked..." one woman wrote.

Another woman was furious that her 82-year-old mother stopped her feeding early an arrived at Berwick Woolworths at 6:55am to be met by empty shelves.

"As an 82-year-old, she should of had the right to be there with FULLY STOCKED SHELVES!!! No toilet paper, no paper towels, no wet wipes. Good job greedy morons! You were meant to look after the elderly!"

The elderly lining up this morning outside a Woolworths store. Image: Getty

An elderly man noted while the intention of Woolworths was 'noble' the dedicated shopping hour did not work and needed to be executed better.

"At your Fairfield Heights branch at 7am this morning. The car park was full, the queue to get into the store was very long, and when I managed to get in it was absolutely chaotic. Plus, about one-third were not even pensioners," the customer wrote.

"Toilet rolls were sold out by 7:15am, half the shelves were empty, there were NO potatoes, no chicken, no pork! I also saw several fragile pensioners being pushed around by younger people. Getting to the checkout was another bad experience as people were just pushing their way in front of me!"

The elderly customer continued to explain they felt sorry for the staff in the Sydney store who were overwhelmed and unsure of how to handle the pandemonium.

I finally got out from the store with barely five items. At this rate pensioners like me don't have a hope in hell if we are quarantined!

Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved very popular on Tuesday morning but agreed there were still shortages of toilet paper and pasta.

"Our supply chains are working 24/7 to make sure they get product to our stores," he said.

More broadly, Mr Harker said there was no shortage of goods in Australia.

"It is a logistics exercise of moving the product to get it back into stores with the pace and demand we're seeing," he added.

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Many have called for better arrangement and management by staff to avoid injury to 'fragile' pensioners who risk being caught in the chaos. The Woolworths shopping hour program will be reviewed later this week to see if it can be improved following this morning.

Panic buying in recent weeks sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice, frozen food as well as tinned and other dried goods.

The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often stripped bare.

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Woolworths and some IGA stores have introduced dedicated time to help the elderly and people with disabilities cope with unprecedented demand brought on by coronavirus panic shopping.

The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.

Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets faster under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.

It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.

"We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable," Coles CEO Steven Cain said.

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Elsewhere, the smaller national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.

The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne's Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful.

IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Harris Farm Markets has reduced the number of registers accepting cash across its network of 26 stores across NSW.

This is being done to reduce the risk of transmission between shoppers and cashiers when notes and coins are used to pay for goods, a spokeswoman told AAP.

Featured image: Getty

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