Woolworths’ shares dropped this morning after allegations yesterday regarding the firm’s poker machine operations.
And Aussie pollies aren’t happy.
Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a long-time opponent of poker machines, blasted Woolworths in parliament yesterday, stating:
‘Woolworths spies on its poker machine customers without their knowledge, keeps a secret database of personal information, and uses that information to encourage increased gambling.’
Mr Wilkie’s claims were based on information provided by whistle-blowers who work in poker machine venues run by the Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH) Group.
ALH is owned jointly by Woolworths and businessman Bruce Mathieson, with Woolworths having a 75% stake in the business. ALH operates over 12,000 poker machines through 323 licensed venues across Australia.
Mr Wilkie said Woolworths’ association with ALH wasn’t a good fit with the firm’s ‘Fresh Food People’ image, and questioned the company’s motivations, stating:
‘I understand that in some states they have to own pubs if they want to own bottle shops, but if the cost of business is to cause this much misery, maybe they should be prepared to make a little less profit.’
The whistle-blowers interviewed by Mr Wilkie’s staff claimed that the gaming venues kept digital databases of customers’ gambling and drinking habits, which were shared across the entire network. The information went well beyond customer service, with one whistle-blower calling the tactics unethical. In the interview, the whistle-blower reveals the alleged agenda behind what were formerly genuine one-to-one interactions:
‘It used to be an unwritten thing, you’d talk to patrons in a genuine sense. But now those genuine interactions aren’t what they used to be. We’re actually writing it down so that we can get people to stay for as long as possible to put as much money into the machines as possible.’
Mr Wilkie also released screenshots of Google Drive documents, which were reportedly accessible to staff across ALH’s gaming venues. One of the documents, bearing the title ‘Gaming Daily Briefing Sheet’, contained the following instructions to staff members:
‘We have a massive weekly target to beat last year. We need to be out on the floor really pushing drinks. It’s tax time so people will have more money to spend. Hand out drink cards, be out there as much as possible. Do whatever you have to do to keep people in the room!’
Another document included incentives such as a $50 gift card for staff members who bettered their shift targets for the week, provided the business exceeded its turnover target of $1.7 million.
Woolworths and ALH Group have put their staff in an uncomfortable position using these tactics. And now Woolworths is paying the price.
While the company may have tried to compensate staff for their efforts, consumers will now second-guess every move made by both companies and their customer service teams.
By Craig Henderson