Auckland New World employee accuses store of hiding Smeg knives from 'non-regular' customers

A New World employee is accusing their Auckland store of allegedly hiding products from the Smeg promotion behind checkouts and only giving knives out to regular customers.

The supermarket chain has been running a promotion for nearly three months nationwide that awards shoppers one sticker for every $20 they spend. After collecting a certain amount, shoppers can redeem the stickers for a selection of Smeg knives or a knife block.

But the franchisee of a New World has been accused of encouraging workers to take down the knives from the instore Smeg display, store them in drawers at checkouts, and only give them to regulars or people employees recognise as shopping at the store often.

The staff member, who has asked to remain anonymous, told Newshub they were briefed on the new policy last week. If workers were faced with a situation where a customer tried to redeem their stickers for knives but employees were unsure whether who they were serving was a regular, they were asked to contact a manager to verify, they say.

The worker says it feels "immoral" to withhold products from particular customers.

"I felt that it was an injustice to those who had tried, and spent, just as hard to earn the stickers, but weren't regular customers at our store," they say.

"Giving knives only to regulars and lying to non-regulars made me feel guilty, so after the first few customers I chose not to stick to the policy at my own discretion so as not to be blatantly caught."

After the employee expressed their disappointment in the new policy to those working on the checkouts, they say others agreed it wasn't fair, but felt as though they couldn't say anything against it because it was their boss' order.

"Our boss isn't a tyrant or anything like that, but decisions like this wouldn't be something to argue about," they say.

A Commerce Commission spokesperson confirmed they have received two complaints about New World's Smeg promotion, but these haven't yet been assessed.

"In general it is an offence under the Fair Trading Act to mislead consumers about the availability of products," they say.

"We note that New World has advised consumers that knife blocks are in limited supply with most stores sold out. However, we have not investigated this promotion and can make no comment on New World's conduct in this instance." 

The New World employee says it "felt illegal" to betray customers' trust by "lying" about the availability of knives.

"Customers ought to be treated equally across all the stores," they say.

Auckland New World employee accuses store of hiding Smeg knives from 'non-regular' customers
Photo credit: Getty Images

Foodstuffs, which is New World's parent organisation, says after speaking to the owner of this particular store, they believe the staff member "misunderstood" the situation. 

The spokesperson says the store had recently taken down the knife display stand because they had such a small amount of knives left it "did not warrant leaving a near-empty stand up instore". They say this particular store is very small and space is hard to come by, which also influenced them removing the stand.

"Any remaining knives have been put in the drawers behind checkout partly for safety reasons, as if they have been removed from the lockable knife stand stores are required to place them in an alternate safe location, and secondly so they are easily on hand for check out staff to hand over to any customer who is redeeming with the required filled in sticker booklets," the spokesperson says.

"It is not standard practice for stores to hold knives for certain customers - it is first in, first-served and while stocks last. The promotion only has four days left and stocks are very low, but stores are doing everything they can to ensure everyone has the best chance to redeem."

Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin told The AM Show on Tuesday the majority of the Smeg knife blocks available in the promotion have sold out, but there are still some knives available.

"We took all [the manufacturers] could make. We could not get any more [knife blocks]," he said, adding that more could not be produced in time for the January 24 deadline.

"There's none on the horizon at this point from the manufacturer."

Quin noted that the promotion does bear the fine print, 'while stocks last'.

"We did everything we could to get more stock and we got a lot in. The only thing probably we can do is ask customers 'how many would you like to get' three months ahead. This is not possible to guess."

He added it's unknown how many shoppers have missed out on their Smeg prize and did not directly answer if another form of compensation would be made available.