By ERWIN CHLANDA
As most places where people normally congregate are now out-of-bounds because of COVID-19, the supermarkets are one of the most likely places to contract the illness.
Yet while the town’s three IGA stores have started three months ago developing an online shopping facility, one of the two national operators in Alice Springs, Coles, appears half-hearted about it and the other, Woolworths, has made its “pick-up orders temporarily unavailable”.
This is what is stated on their website although it conflicts with signs in the store claiming the facility is available again. We asked Woolworths for clarification yesterday and will report it once it we have received it.
The food courts are closed except for takeaway (photo at bottom) , there are floor markings (above) and advice for shoppers on how to observe mandated “social distancing” and every second register is closed in the self-service area.
However, scarcities of some goods and limitations on how much can be bought make it necessary to return more often than most people would.
Both majors are no doubt making record profits and there is no shortage labour as hundreds have been laid off as the pandemic unfolded across the globe.
The Cattlemen’s Association’s Ashley Manicaros even wants to bring in the army: “The Prime Minister must intervene and order the major supermarket chains to solve the supply chain issues affecting cattle stations in the Northern Territory even if that means involving the Australian Defence Force.”
The Alice Springs News put these questions to politicians: In the interest of avoiding unnecessary infection risks connected with in-store shopping, should supermarkets provide online shopping with external pickup?
And: If they don’t what should the government be doing?
MLA for Araluen, then still speaking as the Deputy Opposition Leader, said: “A rational and considerate approach must be taken by the supermarkets, specific to each community.
“To cut bush orders in Alice Springs is seriously disadvantaging people living in remote areas.
“Local small businesses that depend on local supermarkets for stock, for example soft drinks and milk, must also be treated differently,” she said.
Woolworths: Pasta shelves are empty. This photo was taken at 4.30pm Saturday. They were also empty midday yesterday.
MLA for Braitling Dale Wakefield, the only government front-bencher in the region, did not respond to the News.
In most cases it is unnecessary to expose shoppers to infection risks, given the tried and proven online ordering, with store staff packing the shopping and customers picking it from an external entrance.
We put this question to Coles: “What is the capacity of Coles Alice Springs to deal with online orders that are picked up by the customer outside the store?”
Their answer does not contain a direct response to that question.
On its website Coles says: “No Click&Collect locations within 300km of Alice Springs, NT 0870.”
Woolworths reacted in a similar manner: “We’re focused on offering and prioritising delivery windows for our most vulnerable customers, including seniors, people with a disability and those in mandatory isolation, with those orders to be made through our Priority Assistance from Woolworths.
“We’ll look to resume our usual delivery operations out of our supermarkets as soon as possible.”
This answer does not explain in what way that excludes providing online ordering.
On their website Woolworths says: “Pick up service from our stores is not available until further notice due to significant item shortages in our stores.
“It is a difficult but necessary decision that will allow our store team members to prioritise the restocking of our shelves in the face of unprecedented demand.”
It also makes no sense because Woolworths could surely keep their website updated about availability.
And shoppers could say “or similar” in their online orders or simply do without some items.
Lhere Artepe’s three IGA stores, mainly Northside, have been filling bush orders for years. Their online shopping system should be in use soon, says a spokeswoman.