Keep a Very Close Eye on Substitutions from Coles during Current Increased Demand (and maybe Woolies)

I wouldn't have noticed, were it not super obvious with my most recent delivery: Paid for 900g of packaged garlic, but got a substitution for loose garlic because they didn't have the specific packaging.

Substitutions are fine.

After a quick look, I got 720g of garlic for the same price according to the invoice, which is super easy to check. According to the kitchen scale, it was closer to 730g, but still ended up missing about 20% or a fifth of what I paid for.

After posting about it on Facebook, turns out I'm definitely not the only one who's been getting charged the same price, while receiving less in the packaged fresh produce section.

To be unbearably clear, it's the same garlic. I paid for $15 for 900g of this garlic and was charged $15. I received 720g of the same garlic as "a substitute" because it was loose and more expensive per kg as a result.

Hopefully the final edit: What sane human would be a repeat customer when they unexpectedly pay the same for less or pay more for the same?


  • Maybe the loose garlic is more expensive than the packaged one at the time so you got the equivalent garlic for your dollar.

    • +5 votes

      I thought so too! But:

      Loose garlic is more expensive because you can buy in smaller amounts, like a few cloves or just a head. My order was for multiple larger packaged quantities, which is cheaper because it's in bulk.

      The "Equivalent to my dollar" situation in your example would be like saying, "Hey we ran out of the family share pack of a kilo of chips for $x.xx, so we substituted 10 bags of 20g, which we sell at the same price."

      • Loose garlic is $25/kg and packaged garlic is $16.67/kg.

        You ordered 0.9kg * $16.67 of packaged garlic and paid $15.

        You received 0.72kg * $25 of loose garlic which is $18 value for your $15 paid.

        Seems reasonable.

        • +8 votes

          I'm not sure you quite understand the price disparity between small quantity and bulk purchases.

          I paid $15 for 900g of garlic because I wanted 900g of garlic, all of which I was going to use.

          I received 720g of garlic for the $15 I paid.

          In what world is that reasonable?

          • @yomn: In a world where you accepted the substitution being different size or product:

            If you have chosen to allow substitutions, we’ll choose a similar item that is either a different size of the same product or a different brand.


            If we substitute any item you'll be charged the lower of the original or the substitute price.

            Which is what happened here. You were charged the original price for the higher substitute item.

            Also, the products could be different types, breeds, brands, origin, quality, size etc. It's likely not the exact same product or source. You accepted that.

            • @Hybroid: This is formatting abuse.

              If we substitute any item you'll be charged the lower of the original or the substitute price. -Coles

              Which is what happened here. You were charged the original price for the higher substitute item. -You

              you'll be charged the lower of the original or the substitute price. -Coles

              It's the lower of either the original or the substitute, not "the original price for the higher substitute item."

              Your suggestion is literally what they are saying they won't do.

              • @yomn: The original price is $15. The substitute price is $18. You were charged the lower of the two.

                If the substitute price was $12, you would have been charged that and not the $15 original price.

                It's not rocket science, but hey, outrage away as you please.

                • +4 votes

                  @Hybroid: It's not outrage, mate. It's "Hey check you're not paying the same price for less stuff."

                  Aside from contrarianism, I'm not sure what your game is here.

                  The garlic is exactly the same. I've bought both types of packaging and they're not "different types, breeds, brands, origin, quality, size etc." It's literally the same garlic either in a big open divider section or packaged.

                  The empirical facts are that I ordered 900g of this garlic for $15 and I received 20% less for the same price (btw less packaging means Coles Group pays less for the product).

                  Genuinely have no idea why you're not comprehending the policies you linked.

                  • @yomn: You have assumed the garlic is the same hence staunchly of the view that you received less for your money. However, that is not the case which is what you're not willing to accept.

                    Both products may not be the exact same cost to Coles. Shipping, stock supply, supplier discount, storage costs, expiry date etc will differ so they have different selling price points.

                    In reality you would have received 600g of the higher priced garlic for the $15 you paid. So in fact you did receive more value at 720g than you actually paid for and you wouldn't expect to receive 900g of the higher priced garlic substitute. Maybe this is where our viewpoints disagree.

                    I'm not sure how else to explain it because that's exactly what the policy you agreed to says to me. Substituted product that may be different size or brand charged at the lowest price. That's exactly what happened.

                    Maybe consider not accepting substitutes in future or just let them know you're unhappy and get a refund. Or do both.

                    Edit: If the price points were reversed and you paid $15 worth of the $25/kg one (i.e. 600g), would you expect to receive more quantity of the cheaper one to meet the $15 paid (so receive 900g) or just pay the cheaper total for your 600g order (i.e. $10)?

                    • +3 votes

                      @Hybroid: Sure. Let's say the two differently packaged items are actually different products.

                      The policy is still the lower of either the original or the substitute, not "the original price for the higher substitute item." No sane PR would allow for this, when their main competition has always been "if we can't fulfill the order, we'll either give more "value" or just not give you anything and cancel the item."

                      As @broc119 says, either 720g loose at the original (packaged) price ($16.67/kg) or 900g at the same $15. That is literally what their policy states.

                      There is no marketing or strategy department who would abide by a publicly facing policy that suggests, "We will charge you more for a similar thing" or "Charge you the same and give you less of a similar thing."

                      Edit: What consumer would shop at Coles ever again, if they were charged the same for less, the same for something worse, or more for the same thing?

                • @Hybroid: I dont want to be controversial but whilst the math definitely checks out in your second comment, I'm inclined to agree with @yomn.

                  The way i read it, Coles should have charged 720g loose at the original (packaged) price ($16.67/kg).

                  I don't do online deliveries but I'd say if Coles only had loose.. they shouldve just sent 900g of that at no extra cost.

                  • @broc119: It's pretty simple, OP asked for 900g garlic.
                    OP should have received 900g garlic.
                    Only after that, can the pricing logic be applied for substitutions.

                    The pricing logic does not define the substitution process. It is a secondary event after the substitution has occurred.

        • Most mental answer I’ve ever heard

  • +5 votes

    NCIS: Garlictown

    • +2 votes

      It started as Garlictown, but it's turned into Law and Order: Freshville. People have ostensibly been finding the same with tomatoes, cucumbers, ginger, capsicum, and other fresh produce.

  • +3 votes

    And don't forget, with Woolies at least, you can just contact them on livechat/chatbot and tell them you're not happy with the subsitution and you'll get a refund - helps them know for next time

    • I didn't mention Woolies, lest I seem a shill. Tried Coles for the first time because they listed a vinegar I like, which ended up being out of stock anyway.

      • I've only had experience with Woolies, who ask if you're happy with the subsitution and offer a refund if you're not. May be worth checking to see if Coles has the same?

        • No refund, but they acknowledged their mistake with the garlic and gave me $3 credit for my next online purchase. Pretty pointless when minimum spend is $50 and delivery is $12 lol.

  • I thought the reason why loose vegies/herbs cost more is due to quality grading? Loose = higher quality = higher grade.

    Pre package = B grade = high quantity at lower price

    At least that's how it works with apples (i asked a woolies worker once)

    • I wouldn't know about apples, so I'll just stick to garlic.

      It's literally the same.

    • This is a good point and quite likely. I'm pretty sure the packaged garlic bulbs are generally smaller bulbs than the loose ones. I also recall them being all-white rather than the purple loose ones. Will actually pop down to Coles tomorrow and check out of curiousity.

  • Disappointed there isn't a petition yet…

  • Thank god we narrowly dodged a bullet and arnt going up in flames like the rest of the world so we can have discussions like this again.

  • Any bargains?

  • Turn off substitutions in your account settings
    Problem solved.

    • I don't think you can anymore. Or it was the case the last time I ordered (a week ago).

      • Ordered yesterday.
        Delivered today.
        Subs off. One thing simply not delivered as OOS

        • I would really like to know how you switched off substitutions.

          In an effort to fulfil your order as best we can, if an item is unavailable, we will select a substitute within the same product category.

          I only see the above message when checking out.

          Is this because my account is locked to using Coles Online Priority Service (COPS)?

          • @DoctorCalculon: Friend just looked and he does it have option to remove substitutions.
            I think because I have always had them turned off they have always not substituted.
            I remember turning them off a long time back when they substituted something totally different and I complained. So I turned them off in my account.

            Saying that the Coles FAQ says:
            You can change whether you receive substitutions or not during the check out process on every order. This option appears in the final page of check out just above the 'Place order' button.

            I didn’t add anything to check, when I placed my order yesterday the checkout window said substitutions were off.

            • @jimbobaus: I have placed a few orders and never seen this. I will take a good look again the next time I order, even though my default option was no substitutions and somehow got changed to allow substitutes.
              Mine was worse, ordered lactose free milk, and got charged for full cream milk half the price that I cant drink due to lactose intolerance.
              Same order, wanted normal colgate toothpaste, they didnt have any stock apparently and gave me charcoal one and charged me for that higher price item.

              • @sagrules: They say near the end of ordering that due to Covid they are short of stock and will do substitutions. Take it or leave it.

  • I have had deliveries from Coles and Woolworths. I weigh the items and check how much they have charged. I think that Woolworths is generally more generous but I did have chickens from Coles where you pay for a set weight and I received quite a bit larger chickens. Coles does not have deli items that are weighted individually and when I purchase these from Woolworths they are sometimes just a bit over but sometimes more than 10%. I think it just depends on the person packing it. Last week I picked up a drive thru order from Woolworths and out of 19 items 5 were missing, milk, eggs, fruit and veg. The extremely laid back assistant had left them in the fridge and only put the pantry items in the car. Interesting how you chat to a bot and they refund you without question, my guess is that they this happens too often to investigate. At least at Woolworths you only need to purchase $30 to do pick up ($50 Coles) and can use GC and your rewards points to pay. Coles has also sneaked in the requirement to link flybuys accounts to a mobile phone number - for our security!

  • To make matters worse, Coles Online or COPS does not allow you to switch off substitutions at all.
    If I am shopping at a Coles retail store, if the item I want is not in stock I generally walk away, and onto the next item in my list. I expect the same behaviour when shopping online. Don't substitute with an inferior product that I do not want, and then charge me for it.

    • I think it was because of many people isolating and not going to the supermarkets it was assumed that they needed certain items to keep going. Woollies substituted cage eggs with free range so that was not a problem but it can be difficult for one person to decide what would be a good substitute for someone else. I think we should now be given the choice whether we want it or not.

      • You should always be given the choice. The items are being picked by a human shopper who may not always care about your dietary preferences leading to wrong substitutions and possible food wastage as there are no returns allowed due to COVID-19.