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ECONOMICS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
(Senate-Wednesday, 28 October 2009)
PEARSON, Mr Mark
BROCKLEHURST, Mr Adrian
HADLER, Mr Robert
MARA, Mr Chris
SAMIA, Ms Nathalie Shoshana
HALL, Mr Andrew John
MARSHALL, Mr Anthony
KELLY, Mr James
- Senator PRATT
Content WindowECONOMICS REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 28/10/2009 - GROCERYchoice website
Senator JOYCE —For the record I would like to state that Mr Hall and I had a strong working relationship as he was a former director of the National Party. For the price of 30 pieces of silver, he decided to move on.
Mr Hall —I went back to my former employer.
CHAIR —Everybody has their price.
Senator JOYCE —Congratulations, Mr Hall. Choice made the assertion that you and Coles were impossible people to deal with. Sorry, ‘impossible’ is too strong a word, but that you were making things very difficult in trying to present an effective website. What are your views on that?
Mr Hall —If we go to the nub of the issue we had when Choice took over management of the website, Woolworths right up front had three key issues where we had problems with Choice. Choice came and saw us in December. We did not have any engagement with them before that. The model they presented to the government, we felt, once we heard verbally from them in December, was fraught with significant problems. It comes down to this: the Choice model assumes that Woolworths—and I cannot comment for any other retailer—has a central database on a computer that sits in our head office and can tell us exactly the price of a good as it goes through the register and sells in real time. We had to explain to Choice in December that we do not have that. We have about six systems that control our pricing in our business and they do not necessarily talk to one another.
The way our pricing works is that we set a standard shelf price from our head office that goes out to stores and then over that week that price can change. We have around 30 per cent of our lines in our stores change price during the course of the week. When we look at our categories we know exactly how many units we sold at the end of the week and we know how much money was collected. We can divide that by the two and then come up with a figure that gives us the average sell price. We have that information. The problem for Choice, which is an organisation that advocates representing correct prices to consumers, is that the price would be an average price, not necessarily the accurate price because if you have 10 cans of baked beans and you set a price on them of $1each, they may not all sell for $1. Some may sell for 90c, some may sell for 80c or we may have to clear them out.
Our problem right up front with Choice was that type of data that they would be extracting from us would not be accurate. It went deeper than that when we started going through the process with Choice and we realised they were applying pretty poor project management skills to something that was enormously large. At the outset they asked us for 300 items and they then moved that to 1,500. They then said they wanted 7,500 items across our 800 stores and they wanted it three times a week. To do that we would have to build a whole new IT system to create those data feeds. We estimated that it would cost about half a million dollars if we outsourced that work to India. On top of that we would then probably have the ongoing headcount and capital costs of maintaining it. Once you get to the point of doing 15,000 price checks per store in a week, the error rate would start increasing and we would be significantly concerned about price representations that the website would then be giving consumers.
That is where we came to our final point with Choice. They were not prepared to accept any of the responsibility for the prices they published. They just wanted to be the portal. The ACCC, we know, would not accept that. Our trade practices lawyers would not accept that, and we never got any satisfactory response from them about the sort of disclaimers we would have to put on the website to tell consumers that it was not necessarily accurate information.
Senator JOYCE —You would understand that it would appear to be not in your interests for that site to be operational by reason that clear and transparent, on-time price checks would increase the capacity of competition in the market and that a better, transparent model of being able to compare like with like would be an advantage to the customer.
Mr Hall —Do you know what? We would love anyone to check our prices any day of the week. We would love anyone to come in and talk about Woolworths’s prices. As a company that puts out eight million catalogues a week and publishes every single catalogue that you can get online, we spend millions of dollars on television, radio to talk about our prices. I am happy to sit here and talk to you about prices all day long. Our concern with Choice was not that they would be publishing our prices. It is just that the feed they were looking for does not exist in the IT form and it was going to cost millions of dollars to get that up and running because what they were asking for was real-time prices. You could get the standard shelf price; you could get the discounted specials that are in the catalogues. We are happy to provide those. In fact, you can buy an IT reader today and build one that pulls it down off our website the minute we put up it at 3 am on a Sunday morning and publish it. There are no problems with that.
The problem with food retailing, and that is the nature of this business, is that if you have apples, they start to go off. You have to clear them out. If you have cans that are slightly damaged, a shopper will not pick them up and you have to clear them out. If it is really hot, there is a run on soft drinks. If it is really cold and you have bought a heap of soft drink and you cannot sell it, you have to mark it down. Food retailing changes every hour, every day. I think that was probably the problem that we had with Choice. They were trying to capture that information and nowhere in the world have they been able to build that sort of ability to capture that information.
Senator JOYCE —Prior to that you said it was going to cost $500,000 to build the system to link your six systems or whatever together to give online prices. But then you said later on it was going to cost millions of dollars. Is it going to cost $500,000 or millions of dollars?
Mr Hall —If we outsourced it to India it would cost about $500,000. That was the initial quote. What then happened was that as the project progressed Choice started adding more and more complication to it. They started asking us for people who could provide data feeds on the type of trolleys that each store had, so across 800 stores we were required to tell Choice what types of trolleys we had. They asked us to identify stores and their public transport options. They asked us to identify whether we had on-grade car parking. They then said as a measure of course they were going have consumers do their own surveys of the prices published and they would then come back to us and ask us to provide explanations as to any discrepancies between what was published and what they saw the website. So we then ended up with a headcount of at least half a dozen people who were going to have to support the project.
Senator JOYCE —You then also said it was going to cost millions of dollars to do the advertising. If it is costing millions of dollars to advertise with 8 million publications a week, surely you would be saving money with an online, transparent costing system?
Mr Hall —The problem is we would not stop sending out catalogues. You would have to be nuts. It would be like, if you were a politician suddenly relying on somebody else like news.com.au to represent your political views—
Senator JOYCE —They generally do.
Mr Hall ——and not actually doing the publication of your own brochures yourself. We are going to keep doing that. It comes back to the business case which was part of the conversation with Choice. I have to present a business case to the business to participate with Choice on this, and with the expenditure of millions of dollars and only a handful of people using a website with a bunch of disclaimers on it and which once they have used it once they get so confused they do not want to use it again, it does not stack up. They are the fundamental problems that we had.
Senator JOYCE —Do you believe the consumer is at a disadvantage—and you know I am going to say this—by reason of the capacity for market centralisation in certain areas to exclude competition from the marketplace?
Mr Hall —Competition always serves the consumer very well, and Woolworths is an absolute supporter of competition.
Senator JOYCE —How big a market share does someone get before the competition is no longer there?
Mr Hall —It is a hypothetical question. If you do not have competition, obviously then you are a single operator, but I know that in our business we operate in dozens of different markets.
Senator JOYCE —Are you going to follow the Melbourne Cup next week?
Mr Hall —I am not a betting person, and I have actually never picked a winner on the cup, Senator Joyce, so do not ask me for a tip.
Senator JOYCE —How many horses are going to be in the race?
Mr Hall —You know, as a young journalist I had to cover horseracing in Grafton, and I was so good at it that I ended up in another job later on, so I do not know.
Senator JOYCE —Would there be more than two?
Mr Hall —There are 13, but what is the point of your question?
Senator JOYCE —The point of my question is that all of this is ipso facto to try and bring about competition. The reason we have got to this point is that the centralisation of the marketplace has led, I believe, to the fact that competition is starting to be removed by the capacity of people with an excessive market share to exploit the consumer. People use the word ‘competition’. They throw the word ‘competition’ around. Any competition talks about a multiplicity of players, and obviously you do not have a multiplicity of players if predominantly you only have two. This is where we are heading to in a lot of areas. If you had an NRL competition with two teams winning 80 per cent of the games, that would be a farce not a competition. If we had the Melbourne Cup with two horses and then a donkey, that would not be the Melbourne Cup; that would be a farce. Do you think there is any issue of any extent of the continual march forward of market share of the major players that will get us to a point where they have too much market share? Is it possible to have too much market share?
Mr Hall —I guess that is a matter for the ACCC to determine, and I guess they do, every day of the week. They have cases brought before them. But, to bring it back to the grocery industry, if that is what you are asking about, I am not sure if you saw but last week we released our sales results and our major competitor released their sales results. They talked about the fact that sales had slowed at Woolworths. They had picked up at Coles. I noticed two weeks ago that the German retailer Aldi is growing at twice the rate of Woolworths in Australia. I noticed that Costco, which is the eighth largest retailer in the world but employs only half the number of people that Woolworths employs, has just announced that it is going to inject another $43 million into the Australian marketplace. I noticed that the independent banner groups have grown at their fastest rate in the last couple of years, faster than they have over the last 20 years—and that came out last year.
The grocery marketplace is shifting sands. It is highly competitive in every market that we operate in. Whenever we open a store, there are four or five independent grocers, independent butchers, fruit and vegetable shops and chicken shops that are parked out the front of our store. We could not operate a successful supermarket without that competition because Australian consumers push for choice. They love the choice, and that keeps us on our toes. These global entrants that are coming into this country keep us on our toes, and I am sure that some of our major competitors like Coles and Franklins keep us on our toes.
Senator JOYCE —I have no issue with the fact that overseas competitors are coming in; I just find it sad that it is only overseas competitors who have the capacity to come in, that our capacity to grow a retailer within the supermarkets that you work in is pretty well not there. Unless they come in with a capacity for major market share that is somehow comparable to you, the Australian marketplace has not provided the mechanism for the growth of a competitor. For your average anchor tenancy in a supermarket, what would be the price per square metre that you would have to pay?
Mr Hall —I would have to take that on notice. It varies depending on whether the supermarket is in Dalby or whether it is in Bondi Junction.
Senator JOYCE —Okay, let us talk about metropolitan Australia. Can you give a range of the prices per square metre?
Mr Hall —I would have to take that on notice, sorry. I do not manage property at Woolworths, so I am afraid I cannot give you that answer.
Senator JOYCE —Do you reckon the competitors that you say are parked out the front door would be on three or four times your price per square metre, or do you think they would be on more?
Mr Hall —Again, I am not familiar with the rent we pay. I am sure it varies per—
Senator HURLEY —Senator, we are straying a little far from the GROCERYchoice website.
CHAIR —I think we do have to focus on the issue before us, and your time is just about up, Senator Joyce.
Senator JOYCE —That is fair enough. My lackadaisical approach to this is that basically the GROCERYchoice website is dead, so I am trying to work out why we are having an inquiry into it.
Mr Hall —I am happy to answer questions. I have a dinner to go to, though.
CHAIR —Have you further questions, Senator Joyce?
Senator JOYCE —Do you have anything to add to that, Mrs Samia?
Mr Hall —She is not married yet.
Ms Samia —No, I do not. I am happy to answer any other questions, though, if there are any questions.
Senator PRATT —I want to ask quickly about future trends in pricing and what consumers are reacting to. I asked Coles the same question. Clearly, more and more consumers are seeking to get information online and Woolworths supplies a lot of information on the television and in the letterbox. Consumers are now looking for information online, but they are also looking to use their mobile phones and other price participation measures. What work if any are you doing in this area?
Mr Hall —We are doing a lot, and in a short period of time you will be delighted with what we launch, but I am afraid I am sitting in a room full of competitors and others are probably watching this online, so if you do not mind—
Senator PRATT —No, that is fine. I appreciate that. I suppose I am just trying to see where the retailers are up to, compared to where the ACCC’s thinking might be. Maybe they have some catching up to do.
Mr Hall —I think if you look around the world the trend is to put more and more online and to make it more and more accessible, within the capacity to make sure that the information is correct—that the products are in stock and they are available and all the other things you need to take into consideration—the same way you would when you are putting an ad in a newspaper. If I look around the world, I see companies like Tesco, and Sobeys and Loblaw in Canada. A number of them are creating quite innovative websites that really allow you to dig down and understand where they sit on that value spectrum. At the end of the day, I think what you will see in the Australian marketplace is more retailers pushing online. It will create a second market of aggregators that will go in, pull that information down and tell you what I think the government was trying to do in the first place with the GROCERYchoice website.
Senator PRATT —So that information will be harvested from the internet. People will commit to creating websites that will do that?
Mr Hall —Yes.
Senator BARNETT —I want to ask about the issues of risk assessments. To start with, could you confirm that Retail*Facts provide data collection for Woolworths, and can you outline and describe the nature and the terms and conditions of the contract and arrangements with Retail*Facts?
Mr Hall —Retail*Facts is one of the many companies that do work for us. They do price checks for us. In terms of the contract, that is obviously a commercial-in-confidence contract, but to put it in perspective, from what I heard today, the size of the contract they have with the ACCC was considerably larger than the one that they have with us.
Senator BARNETT —Without going into confidential matters, obviously, can you describe the nature and extent of it? What type of data and price collection products and services do they collect for you? Can you describe that? Then I would like you to describe the arrangements that you have in place to ensure confidentiality and the avoidance of conflicts of interest.
Mr Hall —What Retail*Facts do for Woolworths, as I understand it, is they provide a backup mechanism to our stores that do price checking with their local competition. So they have a range of stores and a range of different baskets that our data collection guys ask them to go out and do price checking on. They also do other work for us, like compliance checking to make sure that stores are putting the right tickets on the right products with the right specials on the right day of the week and that sort of thing.
To go to the nub of your question, there are only a few companies in Australia that specialise in that sort of work, obviously, and there are only a few who do it very well. You want to get it right, because if they give you the wrong price and you set your price wrong then you are out in the marketplace and your customer misses out. I could only assume that they have in place the right sort of framework to be able to service multiple clients with the right confidentiality. We definitely demand it of them when they are doing work for us. If any supplier is doing work for us and a major competitor we have got all the right contractual arrangements in place, obviously.
Senator BARNETT —Do you see that gives rise to considerable questions regarding, firstly, confidentiality and secondly, conflict of interest concerns, whereby the ACCC have a contract with Retail*Facts to collect the data, while at the same time Woolworths has a contract to collect either the same or similar data?
Mr Hall —I would hope that in the same way they would treat our contract with total confidentiality and not breach any of that, it must be the case that they do that with any other client they work with. We were not aware they were doing work for the ACCC—not that I am aware of. That is a matter where the ACCC went into the marketplace and sought tenders, as I understand it.
Senator BARNETT —You were not aware of that?
Mr Hall —No we were not.
Senator BARNETT —When you subsequently became aware of it, through the media or other sources, what did you do?
Mr Hall —I guess it probably did not surprise us that they were one of the companies doing the work, since there are only a couple of companies in Australia that do that sort of work. Informed Sources is one of them, and has also done work for us. You then move on to the accounting firms, I think: PricewaterhouseCoopers or KPMG, those types of auditing forms that also have the capacity and who also do work for us in this regard from time to time as well.
Senator BARNETT —Would you expect that they would have a separate field force?
Mr Hall —I am not sure how they would set up. You would need to ask them that question. In the force that works for us we would look for the competencies to do the job right and to maintain the confidentiality of the contract. It sounds like straightforward work, but we know from our experience that they can get it wrong. Literally, if they have got someone who is poorly trained who walks into the store and looks at the shelf above rather than below the ticket and records a price, it could set off a chain of events that could cost us millions when we set the price wrong on a product.
Senator BARNETT —I appreciate that, but I am really asking the question as to whether you would find it unusual. To quote Mr Hadler from Coles, he said it was unusual—and I do not want to misrepresent his position; you can check the Hansard—to have the same company or the same field force collecting the same data for a major retailer while, at the same time, the ACCC was contracting the same company to collect the same data.
Mr Hall —I do not know whether I would say it is unusual. Again, I would probably just put it in the context that the value of our contract with them is far less than the value of what I heard the ACCC was spending on them. Given the size of the price monitoring that I know they would have to have undertaken already for GROCERYchoice 1, one would assume that they were using a workforce far in excess of the people that they were using for us.
Senator BARNETT —I will read to you from a letter, which has been tabled as a public document, from Informed Sources to Rod Middleton of ACCC dated 3 June 2008. Under ‘staff recruitment’ it says:
As outlined in our proposal and in our follow up discussions, we have decided to operate a completely separate field force for this ACCC grocery programme of collections. This ensures that there are minimal confidentiality issues and absolutely no conflict of interest issues.
And it goes on. I am concerned and I think that others are concerned that that tender was not accepted but a company providing data to Woolworths was accepted by the ACCC. We do not know and we will find out shortly when Retail*Facts appears where there was a completely separate field force and what measures were put in place to ensure confidentially and to ensure that conflict of issues were minimised or negated altogether. Can you see that those issues are important?
Mr Hall —I know that if had a company or a supplier doing work for us that we would expect them to meet all of their contractual obligations. Upfront, a contractual obligation for us would be complete confidentially of the work that they do for us. Whether it is the ACCC or a competitor, they are doing the work for us, no-one else, so we would not expect them to share it with anybody else. That is all I can really say. It is a matter between the ACCC and Retail*Facts as to how they ran that tender and what they did.
Senator BARNETT —Moving on, your CEO, Mr Luscombe stated at the ACCC grocery inquiry that Woolworths was moving to uniform pricing across its stores. If Woolworths eventually moves to national pricing on packaged groceries, what would be the objection to providing data to the GROCERYchoice website?
Mr Hall —We already have national pricing on about 1,500 lines and we are working constantly to increase that number. The history of Woolies is that we had a federated system of supermarkets. Every state had its own buying office and had its own pricing structure. Within those states, there were various regions. I understand that there used to be around about 89 price regions in Australia. We have consolidated that down to roughly following state boundaries. On things like private label and the like, we have moved as much as we can to try to get national pricing. But it comes back to this issue about the food retail market. You could set a national price for baked beans of $2 but once you put that can of baked beans in every local market there are a lot of factors that affect the price. A store manager has discretion to change that price down to be able to meet competition. There are a whole range of things. You have overstocks and different things that happen during the course of the week. Food retailing is a complicated science. When you get into the fresh area, it is even harder. No retailer has national pricing in this country on fresh, because we have at least seven markets operating—the capital cities—and we have big regional markets in places like Townsville. A glut of bananas in Townsville will depress the price in Townsville, but the price may still be totally different down in Melbourne. That is the nature of that market.
Senator BARNETT —Thanks for that. Choice has argued that the entry of ANRA into the negotiations on your behalf and on the behalf of Coles and others undermines the work of the GROCERYchoice website because the supermarkets were able to step away from the negotiating table. How do you respond to Choice’s claims that that was anticompetitive and antidemocratic?
Mr Hall —It is silly. They were already talking to other bodies, like NARGA, who walked away from the table in January. But they never chose to criticise that. From Woolworths’ perspective, we never ceased discussions with Choice. There was a point at which they were not answering any of these fundamental questions about liability and the accuracy of the prices. They were not providing us with the sort of data that we needed to be able to properly scope out the systems. That is when the need to amplify our voice emerged and ANRA really facilitated that at roundtable discussions. That is the role of an industry body. It was not Woolworths alone in those meetings. Coles and Franklins were there as well. As I read the minutes, as wider industry forums were happening other retailers were raising the same concerns. From our perspective, we never stopped talking to Choice. It is just that it was a one-way discussion. We would ask them questions and never get an answer back.
Senator BARNETT —A follow-up question relates to the government’s proposal of an industry website. Have you had discussions with the government in recent times regarding the establishment of an industry website? If so, can you tell us about those discussions?
Mr Hall —The government is taking a keen interest in where retailers are going with online. As I mentioned to Senator Pratt, we are doing a lot of work on it. I hope you will all be really thrilled with the product that Woolworths will be able to deliver to the market fairly soon. My view and the Woolworths view are that, if you look around the world, the advances that are happening at the moment in the online space are happening fairly quickly. We are starting to learn that. We are starting to look at the technology we can get and to get those brought into the Australian marketplace. I think you will see that online participation area slowly increase.
Senator BARNETT —With that Woolworths initiative, has the government approached Woolworths or other major retailers, to your knowledge, to establish an industry based website?
Mr Hall —They have been having those discussions with ANRA, as I understand it. As a member of ANRA we have been participating in those discussions at our regular ANRA meetings. But of course it is a point of competitive advantage that we are not going to talk about what we are doing as a company in this space until we are ready to release it to our customers.
Senator JOYCE —Who makes up ANRA?
Mr Hall —It is 20 of Australia’s largest retailers.
Senator JOYCE —In the grocery sector, who are they?
Mr Hall —You have to have a turnover of more than $100 million, so it is Coles, Franklins, Woolworths, DJs, Harvey Norman—
Senator JOYCE —But Coles, Franklins and Woolworths are the only food ones.
Mr Hall —Correct.
Senator JOYCE —Is that because they are the only ones with a turnover of more than $100 million?
Mr Hall —That is the requirement, off the top of my head.
CHAIR —We have a list of ANRA members, Senator Joyce, which I am sure the secretariat can provide you with again.
Senator HURLEY —I am interested in this idea of the Choice requirement going up to 1,500 items and you not being consulted about or given any rationale for that. How did that occur?
Mr Hall —That is right. At the initial discussions there was discussion of 300, and then it became 1,500 in about February. We then quizzed them about how they were going to choose those lines, because we carry 30,000. You could easily pick some lines that are rather obscure. To be honest, some of the suggestions were obscure. I remember seeing things like budgerigar food and the like and thinking to myself, ‘I’m not sure what the criteria are to get onto the list.’ They said that they were getting consultations from an external party called Freshlogic. There was a report that they allegedly had done by a company called Freshlogic that was advising them on top-selling lines. We are not sure we would use Freshlogic to give us at advice, because there are other companies that do that work. We were never provided with that report. By about May, we were being told that number had increased to 7,500 lines, which, extrapolated by being requested three times a week—
Senator HURLEY —You were saying that you have something like 1,500 nationally priced items.
Mr Hall —Yes. They are generally in things like private labels: Home Brand, generic type products—tissues, for example.
Senator HURLEY —I heard one argument that, because you produce brochures like this and the prices are therefore fixed, you could have provided that information to Choice.
Mr Hall —We can do that. Choice could buy an internet reader tomorrow and download all that information. That was never the point of it. We put our brochures out over Sunday night and Monday morning, and they are basically out of date by Monday afternoon. On Monday the store manager in my area in Sydney will take the catalogue and have all his specials up. He will then go and price-check it against his major competition outside the front door and adjust the prices accordingly.
Senator HURLEY —So these brochure prices are only fixed from going upwards and can go down from the advertised price.
Mr Hall —They cannot go up, but they can go down.
Senator HURLEY —Given those kinds of figures—7½ thousand, three times a week—clearly the smaller supermarkets as well as Franklins and you, from what you tell me, were going to have trouble with the IT resources to produce that information. Did Choice explain how they were going to deal with that, or was it going to come down to just requiring Coles and Woolworths to provide that data?
Mr Hall —It was upfront. At the industry forum that I attended, which I think was in February, they had the IGA there, through NARGA, and the ARA, who represent FoodWorks. If you look back at the minutes of those meetings, they were upfront about the compliance burden that would have been on them. I have no doubt that if you were an independent store operator, or even an IGA—there are IGAs of 4,000 square metres—faced with having to send the prices of 7,500 items, you would have been dedicating two or three staff do the job of filling out forms, or entering it in or having some download function in your computer, and sending them to Choice. I think they were upfront, right there and then, that it was going to be a burden and a cost to their business.
Senator HURLEY —ANRA, I believe, said they could have made a system work, so where was the problem? Did you understand it to be a government requirement or Choice’s requirement?
Mr Hall —As I understand it, Choice had a concept in mind. They went to the government with it and worked backwards from there. If Woolworths were going to execute a project like this, we probably would not have approached it in the way Choice approached it. Choice, as an organisation, has a solid and strong reputation as a very good advocate for the consumer. It has a very solid track record in the product safety space and the like. I suspect what they were trying to do with this website was to insert themselves into an area of relevancy that they felt they were missing out on. They were already doing supermarket surveys but they were never doing this level of survey. We understand what they were trying to do; it was just that they were missing the fundamental point that we do not have a system that can tell us—and download—the exact price of a product as it scans and sells. We could build it—it would cost millions of dollars—and maintain it, but we have no need for it from a business point of view. The only reason we would have been doing it is to support Choice’s website.
Senator HURLEY —You mentioned also a list of other factors that they were taking into account, such as car parking space and the availability of public transport. I can certainly understand why, with consumers’ interests in mind, they might be looking at that. But you mentioned in passing something that I, as a person who does weekly shopping for the family, also take into account, and that is staffing. Aldi—which does not exist in my state of South Australia—has very few staff. I take that into account when deciding which supermarket I go to because I like to get in and out quickly and have a reasonable number of staff to respond to my query when I want a product to be stocked. Is staffing one of the issues that Choice was interested in knowing about? Is that something they were going to put on their website?
Mr Hall —This is part of the information that their project manager asked to be able to download—things like home delivery, unit pricing and packing. With packing, for example, I assume they were talking about literally having someone packing for you at the end of the checkout lane.
Senator HURLEY —I think that went out a long time ago, didn’t it? It did in South Australia anyway.
Mr Hall —It is funny, but Australians actually do not like it. They prefer the current system we have got. When you look at the different supermarket chains around the world, every culture has its own way of doing it. We understand that there are a range of factors people look for when they do their shopping. We know that price is only one factor that they take into account. There is also service, range, ease of parking and the quality and availability of food. There are a whole bunch of things that people take into account. The hard discounters, particularly international ones like Aldi, are built on a model of having as few staff as possible on the shop floor and having customers help themselves. That serves a particular customer base. That is why, when you get down to like-for-like comparisons of product, it becomes quite complicated—and we were concerned about that.
Senator HURLEY —Hence, I presume, the reason that Choice did want that extra information. But, of course, it is always a trade-off between what can be provided and what is desirable. Finally, Coles said that the technical and legal problems were what summed up the difficulties for them, as well as the cost. Would you agree with that?
Mr Hall —There were three things for us: technical, the legal issues of misrepresenting our price to consumers and like-for-like. Woolworths has a quality assurance program, particularly around its fresh that is unique. It is one of a very high standard. We know from past experience that when our meat is compared with some of our competitors’ meat, our meat comes out more expensive, but that is because they are doing incorrect like-for-like comparisons. They are comparing cow meat with quality rump. We are very sensitive to that. That was another issue that we could not get a resolution on that was satisfactory from Choice. They were insisting they were to apply their own standards, and we felt that ignored the standards of our suppliers and that we abide by within our own store. We were not comfortable about a third party applying their own standards on information we give them and then publishing it and then taking the liability for that.
Senator HURLEY —Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you for appearing.