Woolies CEO resigns, but sales are the least of their problems…

Is it any wonder the Woolies head checkout operator is resigning? It was announced in the press today the CEO is falling on his sword after a deterioration in sales.

But the sales are the symptom, not the problem. You may have seen this article about a major data breach.

Apparently a human caused a computer to send an email to more than 1,000 customers – because computers don’t just send emails like this of their own accord. The problem from this simple error, is the email included an excel spread sheet with the names and email address of thousands of customers and a downloadable link to 7,941 vouchers, worth a total of $1,308,505.

If you read the article you’ll see how some customers had purchased their vouchers, but when they went to use them at the check-out, they had been cancelled by Woolworths, leaving the poor customers publicly humiliated and a tad upset.

Here’s what one customer said:They took my money from my credit card and told me I was using stolen cards. I could not take the trolley of groceries home as I did not have enough money to pay. I tried to call Woolworths but no one picked up the phone. I have had a very very horrible day.”

To say this data breach is a disaster is an understatement. And it demonstrates how managing your small data – let alone your BIG DATA – can be very costly if you get it wrong.

It also reflects another problem of modern business. The attitude of big brands: it’s one of complete disrespect and disdain for customers. They refuse to provide humans to serve customers when those said customers require help. You’d think these brands would know a customer – those people who pay the salaries of the executives, like the CEO. Why don’t these companies get it?


I was in Woolies, or was it Coles last week? I struggle to remember because they are identical in design, have the same soulless atmosphere and a complete lack of service.

I was trying to find a particular product, but couldn’t find any particular staff to help me. Like an explorer in uncharted territory, I searched aisle after aisle for someone who was obviously an employee, who could provide directions. I did find a bloke stacking bread, but he said he said he wasn’t an employee, he just put the bread on shelves. Obviously some sort of volunteer, slave, intern or work experience lad?

I tried the checkout but the queues were too clogged to attract attention. Eventually I found someone who suggested I try three quarters of the way down aisle 19 – supported by a “good luck mate” comment.

Play swap the logo

woolies 1
Woolies or Coles – they both look the same?
Spot the customer service staff…

Just like real estate agents, you could swap the logos between the Woolies and Coles stores and you wouldn’t notice a difference.

The data disaster was followed closely by the Woolies Website Wreck

You can read about it here. Unlike the majority of humans, marketers get excited about marketing – which is understandable but rarely fruitful. The language gives it away. Woolies spent money telling the public how excited they were about a new website. Life must be dull in grocery land if that’s what floats your boat.

woolies FB

The problem for Woolies was the lack of response to the feedback provided by customers – despite encouraging it.

woolies FB 2

The best they could manage was to reply with a social media post:

Woolies FB 3

Worse still was the comment to the media:

“Woolworths online serves thousands of customers every day. We have been making changes to our site and gradually rolling them out across the country… these changes also mean customers pay exactly the same price in store as they do online.”

This demonstrates a complete disconnect with their customers. The problem Woolies caused, had nothing to do with cost of goods. It had everything to do with the cost of convenience – the website wasn’t working, so any convenience gained from shopping online was lost. Bugger the price of beans.

You know you’re scraping the bottom of the customer service barrel when you rely on social media for customer relations. But it’s not surprising that senior executives have been duped to rely on social media – they offer nothing else.

So many companies force you to DIY problem solve, by searching and hunting on appallingly designed websites (where ‘contact us’ is almost hidden from view). The only way you can solve a problem is submit an email form and hope you hear back in a few days.

customer service

You can never find a telephone number to contact companies at any time of day. These companies want you to do business with them 7 days a week, either in retail stores or via websites, but they don’t want to provide customer service. Or if they do provide telephone support, you have to talk to a computer, press buttons, go around in circuitous loops and eventually get put on hold for ages listening to advertisements.

So those who can be bothered start trolling on social media and marketers mistakenly believe that’s where they need to be focusing. I’ve owned a supermarket – not the size of Woolies or Coles – but the principles for serving your customers do not involve remote random social media posts.

'Your call is important to us...but not important encough for us to hire additional staff to talk to you.'

Maybe Woolies and Coles should just merge and become Coolies? It’s a rude and disparaging term for cheap labour. But given both stores are too cheap to provide labour to serve customers, neither give you a discount for self-serve checkout and all their ads brag about how cheap they are, it seems quite appropriate.

Gotta go – need to do the week’s grocery shopping. Online or in-store? I think I’ll support small business…


  1. This is really depressing Mal, but how many times have we seen it before? I’ll say it again – senior executives are abdicating responsibility in too many customer facing areas.

    In the past year I have personally witnessed website “upgrades” by two major international companies, an airline and a bank, which both proved to be disasters. Now I can add Woolworths!

    The execs of these companies can’t write the code, but they MUST do thorough user acceptance testing WITHOUT pre-briefing – ie putting themselves in their customers’ shoes.

    …and as for “customer service” via generic Facebook statements from junior staff who have no concept of the seriousness of the situation… I am glad that I recently sold my Woolworths shares.

    Grant O’Brien has fallen on his sword, but Woolworths might have been better off if he had lead a few of his Generals off the cliff with him!

  2. You are 100% correct. I tried their online store and first time they sent me stale carrots. Go figure? How do you, in your right mind, send out carrots that are limp? No response to the complaint though!! John

  3. We must be very lucky down here in Hobart. We have a Coles store in the northern suburbs that has the most amazing customer service.

    If you can’t find something on the shelves you can ask any of the staff stacking shelves, doing inventory, etc, and they will actually walk you to the product. Their assisted checkout is brilliant, with very helpful staff if you need them.

    The other Coles stores around Hobart are not a patch on these guys. And the other mob… well, I never shop there!

  4. Southwest Airlines in the U.S., maybe the U.S.’s biggest airline, at least before the latest mega-merger of some giant airlines who are only big and nothing else, still has a real person answering the phone. And if they are swamped you just leave your number and they call you back. And they do!

    No wonder they continue to win in a soulless business.

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