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Coles and Woolworths supermarkets conform the 65% of the groceries market in Australia, which has ben the main reason why they have been acused of duopoly on numerous times. Today we tell you how they went from selling general merchandise in 1910s and 1920s to become the largest supermarkets in the country.

When Coles and Woolworths were born

Before the emergence of large grocery chain stores, people were used to go to their neighborhood small stores to do their shopping. There were one shop for meat, another one for fish, other to buy fruits and vegetables, etc.

1910s-1960s

However, with the arrival of large grocery chains in late 19th and early 20th centuries, consumers had the option to find a wider variety of products in just one place. Coles opened their first store in 1914 and Woolworths in 1924. They sold footwear, furniture, homeware… and everything which had nothing to do with groceries. Until 1950s.

In the 50s, everything was changing, both society and economy. Meaning that the world was in a very important moment of history. Coles and Woolworths knew that so they entered the food market. Moreover, they also bet for the self-service model at their stores, as well as some of their competitors.

This was the beginning of something: the take off of both chains. They began to grow within the country and gradually left their competition behind. Even buying them out. In 1960, Coles bought Mathew Thompson, the largest food retailer in New South Wales after a long argument against Woolworth. This retailer had 248 stores.

Coles supermarket in the 1960s

Source: Coles

On the other hand Woolworths kept growing. After open their first supermarket, they also opened their first Big W department store in 1964 so they were in both sides of the market, not only groceries.

1980s-2020s

Australian economy was gaining confidence in the 80s, making it a perfect time to boost business expansion in the country. Coles acquired Bi-Lo, a fashion chain and Myer Emporium Ltd, the department store chain, causing the brith of Coles Myer Ltd in 1985.

Woolworths acquired two Tasmanian stores called Roelf Vos and Purity in 1982, which later became Woolworths stores. They also bought Safeway Australia, the american supermarket chain in the australian country. However, it was not until 2017 when they rebranded all Safeway stores as Woolworths.

In the 90s, with the arrival of world wide web and the innovation in technology both stores had to adapt, but they did not stop growing. Coles entered the online shopping world in 1999, and by 2003 they had had become one of the largest online food retailers in Australia. In the case of Woolworths, they did not open their online store until 2021.

The arrival to Australia of the german dicount supermarket, Aldi, gave a great headache both of the supermarket leaders as it became their strongest competitor. Tough times were coming.

Being aware of that, in 2006, Coles sold Myer so they went back to the origins renaming theirselves as Coles Group, which would be acquired later by another australian company, Wesfarmers, giving Coles supermarket an improvement in their business. Despite of that, in 2018 they spun off from Coles, giving them the opportuniy of growing on their own until today.

After launching their marketplace in 2021, Woolworths acquired Milkrun in 2023, which was a fast grocery delivery startup which competed with the Woolworths delivery service known as Metro60. After the acquisition this services was rebranded as Milkrun.

Coles online supermarket

Their marketplace is very intuitive. The first thing you must do in case you want to buy something is create an account in case you do not have one. After that you can add to your trolley any product you want.

You can choose among different categories: meat and seafood; fruits and vegetables; dairy, eggs and fridge; bakery; pantry and much more. Depending on the season of the year, they have special sections. At the moment of writing this article, Easter is near so you can access to different easter typical products such as chocolate eggs if you click in that category.

Coles Online supermarket

They also offer discounts in different ocassions. Every week they have some products half priced. You can also pay the membership to their program Coles Plus, although they give you a free trial the first month. This membership provides some advantages:

  • Free delivery over $50 AUS spend.
  • Get 2x Flybuys points instore and online
  • Access to Click and Collect Rapid, which allows you to have your shopping ready in only 30 minutes (60 minutes in some stores)
  • Access to Coles Plus Week with more promos and discounts.

Woolworths online supermarket

In terms of funcionalities, it is very similar to Coles’ online marketplace. You also must have an account in case you want to order some products. The difference between Coles and Woolworths is that in the second one you can add products to chart without logging in, but at the time of doing the checkout your account will be needed. As a plus for creating the account, they gife you special offers everyday.

Woolworths’ online supermarket also has different categories and special offers depending on the season. They also have Everyday Extra, a program where the member receives 10% extra discount in one Woolworths or Big W shop, 2 points for every shop in-store, free products for being a member and a 30-day free trial.

woolworths online supermarket

Other advantage of Woolworths is that they give the client the possibility of using “Everyday pay” to pay their shopping. The customer can upload their bank and gift cards in order to pay faster a collect points, using it as a mobile wallet. Moreover, everytime you use Everyday Pay you will receive the electronic receipt in your device.

Controversy: Accusation of Duopoly

Given the fact that Woolworths and Coles together make up 65% of the supermarket sector in Australia, they have been accused of using their market dominance to benefit their businesses. If this accusation proves to be true, they could be forced to sell part of their respective businesses if they are acting in an anti-competitive manner.

This accusation has been promoted by The Greens, an Australian political party that is the third largest political force in the country. Some of the allegations include using their market power to inflate prices, exploit their suppliers and eliminate their competitors.

Image: GPT4

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