Coles decision angers older Aussies

Supermarket giant Coles is facing a backlash over its decision to stop distributing a printed catalogue in favour of an online service called coles&co.

Coles told customers it would stop delivering catalogues via traditional letterbox drops by 9 September. Its new coles&co platform launched on Thursday.

Some have welcomed the news for its environmental benefits – Coles Group chief Steven Cain said the printed catalogues consumed more than 10,000 tonnes of paper each year and, if stopped, would save around 80,000 trees.

“Since 2000, we have delivered around 200 billion pages of weekly catalogues to letterboxes across Australia,” said Mr Cain.

“We’re committed to being Australia’s most sustainable supermarket and reducing our reliance on paper by prioritising digital channels like coles&co is a significant step towards that goal.”

However, others – including many older Australians and those on lower incomes – have criticised the decision.

The move to online services disadvantages those without internet connections, as well as “vulnerable and elderly people” who often depend on others to shop for them.

It also has immediate repercussions for those who cannot shop for themselves under current restrictions.

“Not everyone has access to the internet and just because more people shop online doesn’t mean they are not browsing the catalogue. I am not happy and neither are my elderly parents. Bad move,” said a social media poster on the Coles Facebook page.

“Terrible for older generations, especially for my 81-year-old mum who doesn’t do tech. Going to miss it myself; I love to flip through the catalogue,” posted another.

A Change.org petition has been started by those who oppose the decision.

While Coles said catalogues would still be available in stores on a weekly basis, National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke says it’s “not good enough” and that older Australians are going to be upset.

“There will be people that will be very disadvantaged by this because that’s the way they’ve always done things. When you take away something people are used to, they’re going to be upset,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“This is about respect. What we should recognise is that not everyone is the same and you should respect people who choose to do things differently.

“And you should have a lot of sympathy for them because the only reason that they’re not online is because they don’t have enough money to do it.”

Around 10 per cent of shoppers use catalogues to do their shopping – a number that Mr Henschke says is far from “an insubstantial group of people in Australia”.

“We’re probably talking more than two million people who are not online savvy,” he said.

He said the onus was on the supermarket to find some middle ground with elderly shoppers and those without digital access, suggesting that a specials board indicating what would be on sale the following week could help mitigate the inconvenience caused by cancelling catalogue delivery.

“Older Australians would then be able to write down the things they’ll shop for next time they are there,” he said.

He claimed that Coles had made a mistake in assuming an online service could simply replace the catalogues.

“When you go to seniors’ groups you’ll often find that up to half the people in the room will say that they either don’t use online technology or they’re not interested in using it,” he said.

“They sometimes get angry because they feel as though they’re being disrespected. They didn’t grow up in an office with computers, they don’t own a computer, they don’t want to or can’t spend the money on one and, therefore, they still like to feel that they’re valued.

“They feel as if they’re being pushed aside a bit and ignored. I think it’s really important that we recognise and value people’s choices.”

Coles has responded to the backlash, saying it would closely monitor customer demand for printed catalogues over the coming weeks.

“We are continuing to produce a printed catalogue for customers who prefer to use them. We will continue to assess customer demand for a printed catalogue to ensure we are using the most effective channels to communicate with our customers,” a spokesperson said.

“The printed catalogue will be available in your local Coles supermarket.”

Does it bother you that Coles will cease delivering its catalogues? Would you be okay with the environmental trade-off over your inconvenience? Is Mr Henschke right, or is he creating a storm in a teacup?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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