Adrian Cheng’s shocking treatment by Woolies came at the most exciting time of his life.
HE’S been a loyal Woolworths customer since his youth when he worked at the supermarket check-out, but Adrian Cheng’s allegiance has come to an end.
And it’s a slap in the face from the retailer during what should be a celebratory time that has severed the Sydney dad’s loyalty.
After deciding to give online shopping a whirl, Mr Cheng was left shocked and humiliated when Woolworths banned him from its platform — all because he placed an order for four tins of baby formula.
As the proud father of a newborn baby boy, he thought he would try out the convenience of ordering online, rather than carrying heavy tins of formula home in the rain.
Not only was Mr Cheng’s account suspended, but when he followed up with Woolworths’ customer service team, they refused to budge.
“I emailed them back asking ‘why did you ban me?’” he told news.com.au.
“They called me the next day and said ‘potentially you might have had multiple accounts … We believe you may have committed fraud’.”
Mr Cheng could not help but wonder if it was his Chinese surname that raised a red flag.
It’s not the first time Woolworths has been accused of discrimination over its baby formula sales.
In December, news.com.au revealed signs taped to the supermarket’s shelves gave a two-can limit in Mandarin, with an identical notice in English stating that the limit was four cans.
A Woolworths spokesman said this had been due to an unfortunate error.
Woolworths has struggled to keep its shelves stocked with baby formula as grey market exports boom.Source:Supplied
Upset and offended by Woolies’ handling of his matter, Mr Cheng posted on Facebook:
“Not even the courtesy of a phone call to validate the order, just an email cancellation and customer service telling me to write a email so they can ‘validate’ my claims.
“I’ve always had such fierce loyalty growing up working for them, and growing the shares first issued to me, this is more than a slap in the face.”
Mr Cheng said he felt ashamed of the bad publicity surrounding the profiteering behaviour over baby formula and bitter at how it affected parents.
“This affects legitimate people who need to provide for their children.”
The supermarkets’ struggle to keep shelves stocked with the product dubbed “white gold” has been widely publicised, as have the action of some customers of Chinese heritage who have been spotted clearing out supermarket shelves.
With suppliers unable to keep up with overseas demand, some customers with connections in China have been snapping up as many tins as they can get their hands on.
These “grey market” exporters buy the product in bulk from supermarkets, package them in the backrooms of courier companies and souvenir shops, and ship them to China where they can be marked up by as much as 400 per cent.
A man walks past Chinese courier company Chang Jiang on Swanston Street in Melbourne with a box of baby formula, which the firm packages and sends to China.Source:News Corp Australia
China’s demand for Australian infant formula has skyrocketed since 2008, when melamine contamination in China’s local products killed six babies and made 300,000 seriously ill.
With Chinese parents willing to pay $100 a can for the “clean and green” Australian product, grey market exports have led to shortages that affect availability for local parents, with the supermarkets struggling to enforce their maximum limits of two to four cans.
But while Mr Cheng understands this difficulty, he does not see why honest customers like himself should be singled out.
And, as a Woolworths loyalty card holder, he argued the retailer should have enough data about his past transactions to know that he is legitimate.
“I get emails when Golden Gaytimes are on special,” he said, as an indication of how well the company knows his shopping habits.
The Australian-born professional said he had grown accustomed to receiving suspicious stares while buying formula at his local Chemist Warehouse, but usually tried to shrug it off.
“When you walk out with two cans, everyone’s looking at you,” he said.
He’s now ready to rip up his rewards card and bypass his former supermarket of choice.
Meanwhile, two other families have come forward with similar stories to Mr Cheng.
Sydney’s Reginald Dong said he also tried to buy four tins of baby formula on the Woolworths website, but his order was cancelled.
“I rang Woolworth online and the customer service guy could not explain the reason but just said I’d breached the term and conditions,” Mr Dong said.
When he asked which terms and conditions he had broken, he said, the staff member “couldn’t answer”.
“I have a 16-months-old baby at home needs to be fed, and I understand the situation happening here, but I feel I did nothing wrong. I ordered four tins, which they advised online is the limit.”
And in a separate incident, news.com.au reader Sarah Kong had her account blocked after ordering four cans online.
Mrs Kong detailed her complaint in a post on the Woolworths Facebook page on January 3, which she said received no response.
A Woolworths spokesman promised that the retailer’s customer service team would contact Mr Cheng to “have the matter resolved quickly”.
“Woolworths is trying to manage our supplies of baby formula for our online customers given the issues with supply and high demand,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“In some cases, we suspend accounts pending a confirmation that the order fits within our terms and conditions.
“In this case it seems the customer has had a poor experience and Woolworths apologises for this.”
News.com.au has alerted Woolworths to the cases of Mr Dong and Mrs Kong.
Shoppers are buying up baby formula to send to China sparking a shortage of the powder. Courtesy Seven News
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