Sainsbury's welcomes debate on phone use after checkout row


The debate about phone usage: When should you hang up your phone?

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Sainsbury's says it welcomes the debate about etiquette sparked by one of its checkout workers refusing to serve a customer who was talking on her phone.

In a letter seen by the BBC, it says it is "pleased the story is leading to a wider debate on politeness".

The incident happened at a branch in Crayford, south-east London.

Sainsbury's apologised to customer Jo Clarke and offered her a £10 voucher, but many observers have said it should have backed its worker.

Those adding their voice to the debate include Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who said on his weekly Thursday radio phone-in that he had "sneaking sympathy" with the checkout worker, although he also understood why Sainsbury's had to apologise to its customer.

However, Sainsbury's is privately offering the worker involved its full support.

The company said in the letter setting out its policy: "It is clear this story has touched a nerve as the weight of comment shows.

Start Quote

A lot of retailers are really annoyed with Sainsbury's over this. The customer is not always right - the customer is often wrong”

End Quote Bryan Roberts Kantar

"However, we are also pleased that this specific story is leading to a wider debate on politeness."

'Never wrong'

The Sainsbury's worker told Ms Clarke that it was company policy not to serve people who were occupied with their mobile phones, but that was denied at the time by the company.

But Sainsbury's said in its letter that it hoped "the discussion this has created leads us all to think twice before reaching for our mobile phones and to recognise the great job the many thousands of sales assistants working across retail do".

A number of retail experts said the company's original stance had been wrong.

One of them, Bryan Roberts, from the marketing experts Kantar, said: "A lot of retailers are really annoyed with Sainsbury's over this. The customer is not always right - the customer is often wrong."

The expression "the customer is always right" is generally attributed to the retail pioneer, Harry Selfridge, whose choice of site for his department store put Oxford Street on the map as a prime retail site.

He pressed it on customers and staff as a counterpoint to the legal term in common use at the time of "buyer beware", and not necessarily to put the customer solely in the driving seat.

Perhaps, to be assured of excellent service, shoppers should head for those companies employing the motto adopted by the founder of the Ritz: "The customer is never wrong."

Despite the apology and the voucher from Sainsbury's, Ms Clarke has said she will be transferring her custom to a nearby branch of the rival supermarket Waitrose.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    It's on the same level as people swigging from bottles of pop and eating right the way through a transaction. Worse still are those that munch their way through supermarket products as they walk down the aisles and then go on to present just the empty dirty wrappers at the checkout! It's ill-mannered, unhygenic and completely unnecessary Such conduct should always be berated by staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Its a question of being polite. Sadly so many times like holding a door for someone I have either been ignored, look at as if I am some sort of weirdo or in some cases spoken to with "what" or "yes". I am sick to death of standing in a food aisle deciding on what to buy when someone stands right next to me shouting down a phone. Sainsburys have got this wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Poor old Waitrose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    It is just plain rude, whichever side of the counter you are on.
    The woman who compained should be ashamed for having no manners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    If a checkout worker made any comment about my behaviour I would simply walk out of the store leaving all my goods on the checkout. You want a problem? I’ll make one for you :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    Ok different scenario, you're with a friend/partner/child phsycally there in the shop. Having a full blown conversation, do you stop when it comes to packing and paying?! Do you stand in complete silence whilst doing this? No you don't it's no different. Rude, is shouting or belittling staff for what they do, not talking to someone else whilst packing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    @523 pique- as a single parent carer for my disabled child, I don't have much free time to do shopping.The shop is 15 miles away.An urgent call re: daycare bus breaking down/earlier arrival home-/child not well would mean my child being at risk, so I have to ask someone else to cover till i can get there.I wouldn't condone anybody chatting socially on the phone and ignoring staff.That's rude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    There are a LOT of ill mannered fools in this country, it's one of the reasons it's become such an awful place to live in the last few decades, I welcome any attempt to redress this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    This could be an age thing primarily. Older generations were schooled in the common courtesies which are sadly lacking now. It's about respect for other people no matter what their status. It's about making the distinction of what actually is an important call. I feel sorry for those who feel they need the assurance of constantly having a mobile stuck to their ear. They need to live life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    In my job (retail security) that worst thing about working with the public is the public! To be sure, most people are polite and curteous (even the crooks!) however the rudest people in my experience are those who have done nothing wrong but set off the door alarm. Best course of action is to be polite yourself which serves to show them up as the jumped up, egocentric drama queens they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    of course its rude & ignorant the customer should have waited till she was served before using her phone

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    To all those people who think it's fine to take a call while being served, try taking that attitude when, for example, you're making love.

    After all, you can manage two things at once, can't you? And so long as you're performing, what's the problem?

    You'll soon find yourself sad and lonely, but at least you will have the satisfaction of having exercised your rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    It really shows that the society is deteriorating. The caller should have left the phone for a few moments and/or the server should have served without any comments.
    Looks like we are getting too much in mundane things and ignoring the immediate surrounding. We need to be in tune with our condition in present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    For those of you supporting Jo Clarke, if you're looking for her gratitude, you probably won't get it.

    Remember, not only was she rude at the checkout, she then marches off to customer services to complain and cause problems for the staff member and not satisfied with this she then chooses to contact the press! Rude and unpleasant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    There is no need to be rude, as a customer I expect the shop assistant to do their job. LIKEWISE I expect as a customer to attend to the shopping task in hand. Holding a conversation with a third person is quite simply Rude and unworthy of a civilised person.
    I support fully the till operator, but think that a simple cessasion of action whilst the customer was 'elsewhere' would have been enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    Having worked in retail for 6 years, I think it is unbelieveably rude to be on the phone whilst at the check out, there are times when the customer needs to and it's acceptable because they have apologised and explained its important, but when you turn up to the counter, no say a word and just walk off, that is just plain rude. You would think its rude if the cashier was on the phone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    Manners cost nothing...In this day an age of internet, mobiles and social platforms like twitter it is very easy for people to have an over inflated feeling of importance. But in the real world when I am 'unplugged' I would never talk on the phone at a checkout or while talking to someone in person, I hold doors open for people, I let people out of junctions but I seem to be part of a dying breed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    504. beth wales

    The shopping can ALWAYS be left. I have yet to think of a situation where i couldnt leave a basket of shopping.

    And, i struggle to think of any truly urgent situation that would require me to deal with on the phone whilst continue to do my shopping. I'm open to ideas tho?

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    I've had customers on the phone when I was serving them, but they've usually managed to speak to me at the same time. I've also had people give me their mobiles, with their shopping list at night time when we served customers through the hatch. "Call me back'' would be better, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    440.Titan - Yes, perverse. You are not at "mercy of anyone" and again you distort the argument. You're free to take your ignorant approach to another retailer. It's not about workers having arbitrary powers on who they serve. I'm sure Sainsbury's have no rule, just as Tesco didn't expect folk to do their shopping in pyjamas. It is called manners. You shouldn't have to tell people not to be rude.


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