Retail Reboot: Coles

Retail Reboot: Coles

Pricing, range and location all play a role when we choose a supermarket, but what can they do to make us change our minds? Our Retail Reboot concludes with a week of shopping at a “new look” Coles store.

Coles and Woolworths are the twin titans of the Australian supermarket scene. Despite the rise of Aldi, the prominence of IGA in smaller centres and the emergence of discount online providers such as GroceryRun and SupermarketDeals, Woolworths and Coles remain the biggest players.

The impact of that dominance is fiercely debated; in some cases it results in cheaper goods for everyone, but many shoppers object to supermarkets promoting their own house brands. What it undoubtedly results in is fierce competition between the two rivals, each seeking to redesign their stores to attract more customers.

Retail Reboot: Coles

The most recent incarnation of this is in Coles’ store in East Burwood in Melbourne, which has newly-designed fittings, a broader range of fresh food, and a larger than expected range of non-grocery items. To assess how much difference this actually makes to shopping habits, I used it as my main supermarket during a recent trip to Melbourne. As I don’t shop with a car, I typically visit the supermarket a few times a week, meaning I could see how quickly I adjusted to the slightly different layout.

What’s different?

Retail Reboot: Coles

On entering the store, the most obvious difference is that the first items you encounter aren’t foodstuffs. Instead, there’s electronics, flowers, clothing, kitchenware and even a specialist stand for selling mobile phones. (Unlike the main supermarket, this doesn’t operate 24 hours a day, but it does have pretty lengthy hours compared to most phone retailers.)

The general layout has lower shelves and more space between them than you’ll find in a typical supermarket. The butchery lets you specify cuts of meat you want; there’s a curry kitchen producing ready to reheat meals; you can watch the chickens being roasted before they go on sale. [imgclear]

Retail Reboot: Coles

Fruit and vegetables are said to be delivered daily. What’s very notable is that they’re laid out on ice to keep them fresher.

Retail Reboot: Coles

While the look is distinct enough the first time I visit, the reality is that there’s only so much you can really do to redesign a supermarket space. By the third trip, I’m moving through quickly and largely indifferent to the changes. That doesn’t mean it’s a terrible place to shop, or that I wouldn’t use it regularly; it just suggests that there’s only so far you can go in changing a supermarket. In the end, you take a list, grab what you need, and get out.

What I don’t like

Retail Reboot: Coles

As regular readers will know, I’m a big buyer of cheaper house brands for standard items. Coles still sells these under its Smart Buy branding, but (in common with Woolworths) it doesn’t make them particularly prominent. They’re usually on the bottom shelf, making them harder to locate than the pricier premium brands (whether those are store-owned or from another supplier).

The extension from standard food lines into phones, clothes and the rest is reasonable enough, but in this particular location it seems a bit odd. Right next door is a Kmart which is also open 24 hours (indeed, it was the first Kmart to open in Australia). So it’s not like I’ve suddenly got a new range of options in an area where there was previously nothing, and for the most part Kmart’s equivalent products seem cheaper. I suspect this aspect of the new layout will make more sense (and sell more goods) in locations where there isn’t a department store nearby.

Could you save money shopping here?

Retail Reboot: Coles

Yes, you could save money here, simply by following the rules we’ve discussed before: working from a list, buying when specials are on, and planning carefully. You’d also need to resist the urge to splurge on the specials that are being promoted at the front of the store.

I can’t imagine that I’d actually go out of my way to shop at this new-look store — if it was my nearest option (as it was that week), it certainly got the job done, but my supermarket habits are so ingrained I suspect that would work in any large store. If you’ve tested out a new-look Coles, tell us what you liked and disliked in the comments.

Retail Reboot: Coles



  • A lot of the coles specials are now ‘2 for $$’ or ‘3 for $$’ – so I seem to end up spending more overall for my shop, even though I might be getting more as well.

    On the Gruen Transfer someone said their strategy was ‘bigger baskets – bigger spending’ which makes sense to me.

    Not saying this is good or bad, but just something to be aware of.

    • as far am im aware “value buys” i.e. 2 for $10 isn’t part of shopping online. So they can still claim to have “catalogue specials” on the shop online portion of their website.

  • This is what Tesco did in the UK over ten plus years ago – Coles have a lot to learn. Best they get on a plane and go find out where Tesco went wrong – and right. Coles is starting to look like a poorly thought out Tesco clone. Give then their due – they are trying.

      • But not as cheap as your local greengrocer or butcher… Forget cheap imported aldi crap… In Wantirna (middle eastern suburbs mel) the greengrocer and butcher are eaily 30% below the majors… it’s a no brainer!

  • Seriously, can we get 24 hour grocery stores soon? NZ has had it for ages and it’s an absolute lifesaver, not to mention pretty darn useful for shift workers!

    • +1
      I live in a capital city (Brisbane), and they STILL shut at 9pm on a weekday, and 5pm/6pm on the weekends.

      The last time I went to Sydney, I didn’t get to my hotel until about 10pm. I was SO happy that the coles nearby was open till midnight (on a weeknight!), as I was starving (ok, not literally, but really hungry).

      I know paying penalty rates for after midnight (or whatever it is) would sting, but still, you’d think with the amount of self-service checkouts that they’d be able to extend their hours a bit.

      • Down where I am 30K east of melbourne we have a 24 hour Safeway and another open til midnight. Not sure what the local Coles does but I’d be surprised if it closed at 9.

  • It’s a start. A local Coles store has had the overhaul, it has made it a nicer place to shop. I’m not sure that I like the cheese being so low to the ground, I can see it being a problem for older people.
    I like the fruit & veg on ice and the butchery/deli meat sliced to order. Coles Sorell certainly exudes freshness more than other Coles supermarkets, although I still prefer to spend locally by going to a butcher or market (which is what I do 90% of the time).

    Now we just need Aldi. The only competitor to Coles/Woolies in Tasmania is IGA & it seems to price itself out of the market.

  • Our Coles (Bunbury WA) has this bit called ‘Fix’ which sells clothes. I’m yet to understand the point of cheap, plain clothing being sold at Coles when there’s a Target in the same shopping centre. Not opened yet but finishing up renovation is a ‘curry pot’ which will apparently have multiple types of takeaway curry. They’ve also upped their shelf stock to include a few more imports or traditionally ‘gourmet’ items – sherry vinegar and the soft drink L&P are two examples I’ve found recently.

    I’m not sure what direction Coles are going in with their stores. In terms of stocked items, they’re the most complete (apart from bagels, which only Woolworths ever seems to have), but they’re less aesthetically pleasing and their specials aren’t as good as Woolworths.

    • Can’t shop. Big finger will point at my groin too.
      Why do they sing about “down, down, prices are down”, whist pointing at their groins. It’s a very strange world we live in…

  • I’ve been to this store. It’s pretty good.
    Lots of variety store type lines as well as the usual groceries and attractive fresh food departments.

    When I was there they were giving tasting samples of the curry – delicious!

    I seem to remember Coles having stores on a similar model many years ago. Except I think they were Coles with Kmart together in one store. But I’m not really sure now.

  • Yes Smurfydog you are correct, They used to have KMart Hypermarts which was Coles and Kmart in one.
    I know because I used to do in-store promotional work for them as “Hyper Harry”
    A good little earner it was too.

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