Coles’ longest-serving checkout chick, 85-year-old Brenda Palmer, pictured with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, this year celebrates her 50th year working at the Coles Malvern store. Picture: Alex Coppel
Coles’ longest-serving checkout chick, 85-year-old Brenda Palmer, pictured with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, this year celebrates her 50th year working at the Coles Malvern store. Picture: Alex Coppel

Coles big checkout change

FORGET "Down, Down". Coles has a new catchphrase: "I'm Free".

In a bid to regain momentum from a resurgent Woolworths, Coles has a new advertising "platform" to complement the now famous Big Red Hand, which first hit TV screens in 2010.

The new slogan, launched over the weekend to promote Coles opening 10,000 extra check-outs before Easter, comes amid signs the aggressive price wars in Australia's $105 billion grocery market may be coming to an end.

Chief customer officer Simon McDowell told news.com.au that due to strong customer feedback, Coles had decided to extend its investment in opening additional check-outs this week.

He said the move to open every available checkout in every store from 10am to 6pm was the first time Coles, "or anybody for that matter", had done so outside of a Christmas trading period.

Across Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, Coles will open an additional 13,570 check-outs, equating to an additional 11,215 shifts for team members. In total, that means Coles will have opened 23,570 extra check-outs across 19,455 extra shifts over the Easter period, at a cost of more than $5 million.

"We know that quality and value are very important to our customers, and they always will be, but we also know that service is key to your whole supermarket shopping experience," Mr McDowell said.

"So what we're doing here is adding a new platform that focuses squarely on service called 'I'm Free'. It's only a few days old but it seems to be really capturing the imagination of our team members and our customers too.

"It's always going to be an 'and', not an 'or'. Customers expect great quality from Coles, they expect great value and a continuing investment to reduce the price of their weekly shop, and obviously 'Down, Down' plays an important part of that.

"Those things remain strong, now we're adding a third string to the bow as we talk about service. We have always been active in service, what is unique in this Easter week is we're kicking it up a notch.

"Obviously Easter is a very busy time. It's crazy times out there, so we are trying to make that service experience as quick, as fast, as friendly and efficient as we possibly can."

Mr McDowell denied the 'I'm Free' push was in response to customer gripes about self-service check-outs, saying it was "horses for courses", with some preferring to scan their own groceries and others preferring the "personal touch".

Depending on the reception, the 'I'm Free' slogan will likely return at Christmas. Coles has invested about $9 million opening extra check-outs for the past two Christmas trading periods, but this Easter is the first time it has rolled out an advertising slogan highlighting the service investment.

Asked whether the new platform meant a permanent increase in the number of open check-outs beyond the Easter period, Mr McDowell said Coles would "test and learn from this experience".

"Obviously service is important week in, week out, this is just a particular point in time to see whether we can really give our customers something special," he said.

"It's of course a big investment. We're always looking to help our stores simplify their ways of working and how they operate as a business, because the simpler we are, the more we can invest in quality and value and the more we can invest in freeing up team members."

Advertising expert and consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier said "I'm Free" was an "excellent move". "Strong brands can establish a low price then on top provide value by giving consumers more benefits, and in a world of automation and self-service check-outs, to have extra service is what consumers want," he said.

"The phrase 'I'm Free' is really clever because it communicates good service while still reinforcing, almost subconsciously, the concept of low prices. It feels like it's from the same world as 'Down, Down'."

Mr Ferrier said he doubted Woolworths would attempt to mimic the move after its widely panned "Cheap, Cheap" campaign.

"I think Woolies has learned that it needs to stop being reactive to what Coles is doing and try to restore its own brand, which has always been around freshness, and trying to find a stronger positioning within that," he said.

At its half-year results in February, Woolworths revealed it had overtaken Coles in the crucial comparable sales growth metric for the first time in more than seven years in the second quarter, with sales increasing 3.1 per cent compared with Coles' 0.9 per cent.

Last week, analysts from UBS wrote that Woolworths' turnaround in traffic, spend and customer perception was well under way, but there was still a lot of work to do to catch up to Coles. The UBS survey of nearly 1100 shoppers also found Aldi was losing momentum.

According to market research firm IBISWorld, Woolworths has a 33.6 per cent market share of the $105.3 billion grocery market, with Coles on 29.3 per cent. Aldi is now the nation's third-biggest supermarket with an 8.9 per cent share, with IGA on 7.1 per cent.

News Corp Australia

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