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Refunds - change of mind - supermarkets

As I mentioned previously, when the cornonavirus was detected domestically, the big 2 supermarket chains decided to extinguish their change of mind refund policy.

A year later or so, Coles reinstated it.
Woolworths did not.
Instead, months later Woolworths introduced an exchange policy for change of mind purchases. That is, one could exchange the goods returned for other goods, but no refund was possible.

This was my experience in all but one Woolworths store. This one DID offer refunds and I was happy I found it.

This morning I visited the same store to return an item (non food) I bought in error (as I had several of them already). The product was unused, unopened and a far away use by date. I had the receipt (I paid cash) and my purchase was made 2 days ago.

I did not mind the grilling I got by the manager of the store (who the sales assistant referred my refund request to), but I was VERY surprised that even though I paid cash for the good, I was told the refund will be via a card (debit or credit).
I told the woman that such a refund is not legal as consumer law states that the refund MUST be made in the same form as the original payment was made.

She replied “I am only following company policy”.

I did not argue. I tapped my card and was out of there.

Should this matter be brought to Mr Banducci’s attention (the GM of Woolworths)?

I suspect the reason for this new practice is to keep track of returns as they can link my CC number to the return.
Is this an invasion of my privacy?

On the matter of privacy, years ago I stopped swiping/tapping my Woolworths’ Everyday Rewards card when shopping. Amazingly I still receive emails on a regular basis mentioning upcoming promotions, which uncannily reflect my recent purchases. I conclude that Woolworths track my and others’ shopping habits with their CC card (which was used when the Everyday Rewards card was previously swiped/tapped), notwithstanding the customer’s non use of the rewards card should indicate the customer’s disinterest in that product
My CC card has with neither my consent nor knowledge has become a de facto rewards card.

For shame Woolworths.

This is yet another in the long line of reasons that I prefer Coles.

The wording is ‘should’ not must under the ACL, but the ACL does not apply in this case as it is a Change of Mind. The ACCC makes it clear that a business can set its own policies in relation to a change of mind.

Many businesses, due to Covid, prefer to use where possible cashless/contactless methods of transactions with their customers. As it is a change of mind, Woolworths has the right to set it’s own policy to use contactless methods of transaction, and as the word is should, would not fall foul of the ACCC in doing so as the ACL does not apply.

For refunds under the ACL (say a product with a major fault), a retailer can still chose the type of refund method used and could, if it is justified (such as a policy to avoid cash transaction/close contact because of Covid), use another method to that paid. The refund in such cases would need to be returned as Australian dollars, but could be returned as cash or on a credit/debit card.

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Interesting.
I accept your explanation on Woolworths being allowed to choose how to refund.
But I still think it has a lot to do with tracking purchases and returns by customers.
After all, if the company insisted on cashless payments & refunds, why does it still
accept cash at self serve terminals and at manned-check outs?

There are security issues around cash and staff. When I was a bank teller and then branch manager long ago it was a time consuming excercise to reconcile cash in against cash out at the end of each day, let alone if there was a gap of days between a cash in event, and a cash out event like a refund.
Cash has to manually counted. Card transactions are automated.

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I hear you but don’t think that argument is valid.
If “security” was an issue then why not ban purchases via cash?
I suspect because W wants as much business as possible and does not want to disenfranchise any customer eg seniors
who prefer cash to plastic.

By insisting on refunding via a card, what happens if the customer has no card? Or no card on her person at the time a refund is sought for a cash purchase?

It seems to me that nowadays the default is to assume everyone has plastic and everyone has a mobile phone. As for me, I will surrender my phone soon and expect will be considered a dinosaur by some.

I have no doubt that if WW can handle cash purchases, then they can handle cash refunds. It is just a transaction type.
Next time you try a return, say you don’t have a card. Let us know the result.

Now, at my local IGA the staff do not deal with cash. They have a machine that you feed notes and coins into, and it dispenses any change. Just like self-serve.

In such case, they would refund by cash. This would consistent with a business policy where:

If one has a card, they can request refund to a card. If one doesn’t have a card, refund could be by other contactless/cash methods such as store credit or gift cards. When none of these are possible or supported by a business, cash would then be the option used.

You are correct that many within our community, not only seniors, prefer to pay with cash to budget their expenses. Business can accept cash, but where possible, support cashless/contactless methods of transactions with their customers.

There has been a lot of information publicly available since March 2020 that one should use cashless/contactless if one wishes to minimise risks to oneself and retailer/business employees. While this is the public message, I am yet to find any evidence that significant Covid health risks results have eventuated from cash transactions. It is not to say that risks may eventuate in the future.

Edit: I just realised that I erred in my first post. The requirements for refunds under the ACL don’t apply for change of minds like in the case where an item not required is returned to a store. In such case, a store can set any policy they like in relation to the change of mind. Woolworths (or any store) is within the legal right to nominate the refund method for a change of mind. They can chose payment methods that suit them, or many even offer store credits, vouchers or gift cards instead of a currency (to card/cash) refund. I have amended the original post accordingly.

On your point of change of mind refunds, the following I thought I’d share a very odd experience I endured this morning.

I know from experience that some Woolworths stores (NSW) offer a refund and others only an exchange against any purchases. Recently I returned two items totaling $8 and that was used to offset a $7.60 purchase. I was given the difference ($0.40) in cash.

Today I went to a Woolworths supermarket to return 3 items and was made aware of Woolworths’ new policy (“as of last week” I was told):

  1. One item can be exchanged per transaction involving a new purchase. For instance, I have three items to return, I must transact three times, regardless of how many items I want to buy;

  2. If the returned item costs less that the new purchase, I need to pay the difference (next they’ll tell me the earth isn’t flat);

  3. If the returned items costs more than the new purchase, Woolworths KEEPS THE CHANGE. You read that right!

  4. Woolworths does not issue store vouchers for returns of any kind.

Previously in my experience Woolworths in the one transaction would process a refund of all the returned items and would use that credit balance to offset a new purchase, with any shortfall requiring me to top up and with any surplus (i.e. where the value of the returns exceeds the purchases made), Woolworths would pay me that difference in cash.

So as not to gift Woolworths my hard earned money, I returned only two items today (via two transactions) and kept the third item, for return another day, as its value exceeded the total cost of my purchases.

Once again Woolwoirths provides me with yet another reason to stick to ALDI and Coles, both of which, in my experience, refund on demand and do not insist on the customer making another purchase.

Previously I wrote about the low standards Woolworths aspires to in customer service.

Here is more evidence on why Woolworths sits at the lowest rung of supermarket players. And that is a generous statement as it is clearer by the day that Woolworths does not even sit on the ladder.

On 05APR22 I bought a tub of cottage cheese, $4.50 (home brand).
I tried it this morning , two days later and it tasted “off”.

Before work this morning I stopped at the same store from where I bought it and asked for an exchange. I explained my reason. The young woman at the counter say “ok” and I left the tub with her.
I returned to the counter with a replacement tub, but by now the woman was elsewhere and another was in her place.
“Oh sorry, we can’t replace or refund as it’s been opened”. She confirmed this visually with the woman I first encountered with whom I left the tub. That woman was several meters away by this time.

I replied “yes, it has been opened. I bought it, tried it and there is something wrong with the taste, so I would like a replacement. You can see I bought it 2 days ago and it has a use by date of June”.

“Well I am sorry, we can’t help you” she responded.

I then pointed out the following: "Are you aware that if an item is faulty you need to make good’? and more to the point, "can you see what is written clearly on the tub ‘if you’re not 100% happy with your purchase we’ll refund or exchange’. It’s there in black and white. For the record I am not happy".

She thought for a while and then blurted out “well I could make a call about this, but it will take a few minutes, I don’t know what they’ll say. Anyway, can you wait”?
I could not wait as my car was at a meter and I was en route to work. Why should I wait? Am I expected to risk a parking fine by overstaying the meter, or the wrath of my boss because Woolworths chooses to ignore ACL let alone its own documented promise to customers? Or am I expected to exit the store, feed the meter again, return to the store and wait for Woolworths’ official response?

Is the promise on refund or replacement on the packaging a bald face lie?

Granted it was not an expensive purchase, but it’s a matter of principle: faulty goods/purchases must be rectified.
I will lodge an official complaint with ACCC as I am not going to accept (what may be construed as a good outcome) that some clown at Woolworths reading this thinking me driving, spending time and effort seeking a replacement in addition to posting here and complaining to the ACCC will all go away if I am offered a mere replacement for the $4.50 purchase.

I can only hope that it will cost the tricksters at Woolworths a good deal more than $4.50 replying to the ACCC

I am pretty sure that the ACCC will give your complaint about a $4.50 supermarket item their usual attention. It will be ignored as it is not evidence of a widespread issue.
How much do you value your time and effort? Problem with a particular product then don’t buy it again. Problem with a particular store chain, then don’t shop there.

You would best complain to Woolies corporate or through the Woolies Facebook page (if you are FB inclined). A few years ago their media unit on FB took a formal complaint from me about local management. I noticed changes a few months later. Coincidence? Maybe or maybe not.

Another time they sent me gift cards that more than made up for an ‘inconvenience’ and similar problems subsequently became far less common - so it probably had impact, although not immediate.

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You are a brave person, happy to swap an “off” dairy product for another that is likely to have come from the same batch and stored in the same places.

@Gregr I only shopped there because it was on my way to where I was going. The product is one I often buy and in many years I have not had a problem. My real problem is the arrogance of the staff.

@PhilT Thanks for the heads up. Good for you in your experience with Woolworths. Many years ago, given my office’s policy and other reasons I decided not to sign up to FB, so that is one option that is closed to me.

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Funny you say that. When I looked for a replacement, I saw what was on the shelf had the same use by date as what I was returning. So, yes, it is possible that the replacement would also prove to be "off’. Another possibility is that some tubs including my original purchase were not refrigerated as required en route to the store or at the store.

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Contact Us | Woolworths includes an online chat, also very helpful and accommodating in my experience :wink:

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Thanks for that. I did that earlier today, giving all the facts (store, time, staff on duty’s name etc).

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This comment is not meant to imply that anyone has done the following, but it may happen.

Refrigerated Milk and Dairy goods have fairly strict keeping conditions including temperature ranges. To go too far above the temperature ranges rapidly impacts the quality and longevity of goods, so storage on the way home may adversely impact the quality of the goods, then ACL is not an effective tool to rely on. This may then affect a person’s ability to obtain a refund under ACL rights, ie ACL only affords protection if the goods have not been misused, eg if they have been transported by the customer in adequately controlled conditions.

In the case of the extended Woolworths warranty terms, this may be a breach by Woolworths of their terms, except that Woolworths might also rely on that the goods have been transported and stored at the product’s stated conditions. If this was not the case, the person who left a bottle of milk, as an example, in a car in direct sunlight for even a 1/2 day could easily get a free bottle for their failure to adhere to the storage requirements (an unfair and absurd outcome it appears to me). Under ACL, this would not be a supported outcome.

The standard of storage is < 4C, if left at room temp and here that would be around 20C it should not be consumed after 2 hours of storage at that temp and if the temp goes above 32C it is less than an hour, much above that and time can be only minutes. Cheeses, Creams (sour, fresh, Creme fraiche), Yoghurts etc are treated similarly.

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I recall hearing, not experiencing, in pre-coronavirus days, that Coles had a policy where dairy goods are not offered refunds or exchanges for change of mind, citing the temperature and (mis) handling issues you raised.
BUT, Coles I was told DID offer replacement/refund if the customer found the goods to be “unsuitable” ie “off” or discoloured etc. Also, the closer the return took place to the original time of purchase, the more favourable Coles would look at granting the replacement/refund.

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Yes, and so too could have Woolworths. You decided not to wait a few minutes whilst an employee consulted their supervisor about an issue.
Now, the arrogance of staff is quite often the result of the arrogance of customers. The staff have probably had to deal with all sorts of refund demands every day, and have seen all sorts of try ons.

is the crux of it. It is their fresh and free guarantee for Woolworths branded products and their fresh food. It is on each Woolworths branded product where it applies. Refunding or replacing should have been straight forward, no hassles.

I have returned a few items to each of Woolies and Coles that were substandard or just ‘bad’ and have not had push-back save for once at Coles - and a complaint to their media unit made it right. After having to wait more than a few minutes for such a supervisory approval once I ran the experience up the flag pole (via the media unit) and never had to wait for an approval again - the staff got empowered as they should have been in the first instance to honour what is printed on the pack.

It is a matter of customer relationships and promoting their store brand more than discussing keeping conditions (accusatory is the only way that would come across between a shop and a customer). That puts the customer off side and possibly off to another grocer, at least for a while.

They don’t always replace with a smiling face, but they replace or refund per their labelling and policy. If they don’t they need to be called out and the local management responsible held accountable for insufficient training or violation of policy. A customer friendly procedure is paramount.

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