Coles' I'm Free slogan to boost checkout operation but leads to staff's sexual harassment

By @mik_mapa on
coles supermarket
Customers walk from a Coles Supermarket outlet in Sydney, Australia, May 25, 2016. Reuters/Jason Reed

Coles has positioned itself to offer an excellent shopping experience during the Easter weekend with its new slogan, I'm Free. The supermarket aimed to open an additional 13,570 checkouts from Wednesday through Saturday to cut down the waiting times for the customers. However, on Thursday, the company faced a controversy as some staff members were reported to experience sexual harassment from the customers.

According to news.com.au, the staff members were told to stop using the I'm Free slogan on Wednesday after a number of complaints were received by the supermarket. Based on the complaints, older male customers were making suggestive remarks leading to sexual harassment. “A lot staff are getting smut talk from customers [as in], ‘Are you free? Let’s go together.’ Some of these staff members are young, too,” one of the employees told the news agency.

Facebook user Kylie McKenzie posted in Coles' page that the slogan was the worst campaign ever. She was thankful that her daughter's store was having a visit from the area manager and the signs were taken off the girls on the registers. She commended the area manager visiting in-store and the store manager who protected the staff from further sexual abuse. She suggested in her post that it was time for the company to overhaul its advertising think tank crew as McKenzie described that the crew have lost touch with the real world.

“We’re disappointed to hear that you felt the I’m Free paddles put our team members and other customers in an uncomfortable situation," Coles wrote in a statement. The company said that it has reiterated to its store team members that the paddles could be used at their discretion. The company said it was sorry for the disappointment.

The supermarket decided to increase the checkouts due to a strong customer feedback. Chief customer officer Simon McDowell said that the opening of every available checkout in every store from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. was the first time Coles has done outside the Christmas trading period. He said that the company knew the importance of value and quality to the customers. However, he said that adding a new platform that focused on providing service was important to satisfy the customers in terms of an excellent shopping experience.

Originally, the plan was to bring back the I'm Free slogan at Christmas. The company said that they might use it again based on the reception of the customers. Advertising expert and consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier said that the slogan was clever as it communicated good service while reinforcing the concept of low prices.

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