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 560.

    It seems to me no one is asking the right question! What was Clarke talking about on the phone? I rushed into a store to buy snacks for disadvantaged people but needed to call the office to make sure all was well. But what if I preferred to talk to my dad who has little time on this planet or about a job to get me off the dole, or my bank manager? Be polite, dont hold up the Q but give us a break!

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    Let's put it another way, the checkout person is talking to other collegue whilst serving you, do you say "sorry can you stop and pay attention to me?" I find it rude when people don't pack at the self service when scanning wasting time at the end packing or go to a "Basket only" lane with a full trolly! - Staff never say anything then!

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    I find it unbelievable that Sainsburys are now grovelling to a customer who, quite frankly was very rude to be using their mobile phone when the shop assistant was afterall providing them (the customer) with their full attention. I would have done the same and not served. I just hope the shop assistant has not been punished in any way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Is it not rude to examine ones customers banknotes suspiciously? Particularly when the cashier then complains when said customer does the same with the notes in the change!

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    Anyone who believes it is acceptable to be on a phone when seeking face-to-face customer service would probably be the first to complain if the roles were reversed. Good on ya check-out lady!

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    250. Will Collett

    If a supermarket tells me I can't use my phone at the checkout, I'll go elsewhere!


    Good. I'm ready to shop at any supermarket which assures me that I won't have to stand behind someone as oafishly ill-mannered at their tills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    402 larkim - U are the modern day person from the Titanic. Good to see so many people rated your comment negatively. If I'm on the phone when I get to the check out, to the kids or my elderly parents I close my call. Kids & parents only have to wait 2 mins. I can check items going through till, pack not keep people behind me waiting. If I have to take a call I let the person after me go before me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    Plain rudeness not pay the person you are interacting with your 100% attention. I don't even wear a wristwatch these days when not at work. I'm in a job where I need to know the time - but I have a watch that tells me the time by pressing a button - so I've got out of the habit of glancing at it just in case that gives the impression I'm not paying someone the 00% attention they rightfully deserve

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    @8 andydee a matter of common decency to pay 100% attention to whoever you are dealing with no matter who"
    @33 Sara "People unable to distinguish between 'rights' vs good manners"
    All of the above absolutely correct. In Japan it's poor etiquette to answer a mobile phone in many public places. On trains it's rude to answer or talk on phones. They have a 'manner mode' not to be annoying to others

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Totally agree with the checkout operator and no voucher was needed for the customer. The customer was expecting 100% attention from the operator and the checkout operator should have received the same in return.

    There was life before mobile phones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    534. beth wales

    So for me, taking a call about my disabled child and ensuring their safety would take immediate priority. The shopping would be left. I wouldnt stand at a checkout discussing such things.

    by all means stay in the store, after arrangments made return to do your shopping but frankly dealing with the situation in your example whilst at a checkout disturbs me...

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    I am a regular Waitrose shopper and I hope this rude woman changes her mind and keeps clear of Waitrose. If she were in front of me at the checkout she would probably get "advice" on her manners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    I cannot believe some of the comments here. It is basic good manners in any situation to give who you are interacting with your full attention. This apart have you ever considered the possibility that others around you do not want to actually hear your phone call - whether they be a shop assistant or other customers waiting to be served.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    This is an interesting debate for those of us who had a life before mobile phones existed. I enjoy some face to face interaction with checkout staff, a pleasant smiling face makes a difference to me. Courtesy helps to bind the fabric of society together. This customer's rudeness indicates a selfish uncaring attitude which belittled the member of staff. My sympathies are with the checkout worker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    Prob chatting about themselves on the phone, me, me, me, me! Seems more and more people are just simply ignorant and prefer digital worlds to the real one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    Why would I want to speak to a checkout operator, and not a friend? What have they got to say anyway? Same with hairdressers...nosey bunch. I for one will continue using my phone as and when I want to. Simples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    I have never used my mobile phone while dealing with the check-out attendant as I feel it is discourteous to the person helping you process your transaction. There is a human being involved and using your mobile phone in these circumstances is just downright rude. Go to the automatic check-out if you have such a pathetic need to give priority to phone conversations in such circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    whether you like it or not, checking out and paying for your shopping involves interaction with another human being. You should acknowledge them when they have started serving you and when you are paying at the very least. As long as you do these things it's probably ok to talk on the phone while you are packing (as long as its not making you go slower and holding everybody up)

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    Sainsburys should not have apologised, we have a store in Taunton that has a strict policy that is, use your phone at the checkout and you WILL NOT BE SERVED and it works extremely well.yes it's rude, selfish and just bad manners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    I always thought that any phone call should be private, if people are wanting to make/take phone calls in full hearing/view of others then don't be upset when people who have been brought up to have manners berate those who are rude, (I'm with the checkout operator on this one) manners cost nothing


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