Sainsbury's welcomes debate on phone use after checkout row

 

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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
    0

    Comment number 660.

    In retail business it is said customer is right.But what about the right of employees?They are not robots,they are also human beings.Unless customer is standing there and other customers are mad to wait because of phone conversation and employee is told by other customers,she should not have worried.Take your time in anyway it is employer's loss..

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 659.

    @654 - Any store I have been too the staff have always been genuinely polite. I hope this is because of the way I interact with them and don't treat them as if they were something on my shoe I had trodden in. It's a strange thing, human behaviour, but you tend to find in 99.9% of cases if you are nice to someone they are nice back. It's not hard.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 658.

    Hey and to those who work as cashiers in supermarkets: Don't forget to clean your conveyor belts more often with sanitizer! It's dirty!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 657.

    I suspect Ms Clarke would have only been too eager to complain had the checkout assistant had been chattering away to a colleague whilst serving her. Of course it's rude.

    Some people think the world revolves around them...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 656.

    It is rude but this is only the tip of the iceberg. In today's society the mobile phone take precedent over all other activities to the point of stupidity and in many cases dangerous situations. People on phones need to remember their surroundings and not be oblivious to anything else

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 655.

    621.James

    "... The customer should be knighted!"

    And then sent off to fight in the English Not-very-civil War.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 654.

    In my own personal experience from the staff at my local Sainsbury's, I'd be perferctly happy to take a call whilst at the checkout. From the comments on here, everyone else must be used to genuinely cheery, friendly talkative staff.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 653.

    Bet sainsburys advertising department have had their feet up for a few days.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 652.

    @639 Ron Taylor-GP's and Paramedics are not the only ones who have to answer their phones as it may be an urgent call.Most carers are "on call" 24/7 and sometimes they're eating in a restaurant, talking to their doctor,packing their bags in the supermarket.Usually, most people are considerate, if you are considerate to them.Just saying-it's not always idle chit-chat.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 651.

    @622 wise old bob. she is too busy taking a phone call to use the self checkout and quite possibly too thick to understand how to use it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 650.

    If you want to talk on the phone while you check out, why not use the self service checkouts? Unless there is a queue for them behind you.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 649.

    Reading ALL the "Highest Rated"comments many of which quite correctly make general points about all types of communication via mobiles etc and how one should behave,whatever your legal choices may be,I'm suddenly feeling less alone with my own views
    I often think,how many of these calls,texts,emails etc were a major business deal,a new job,exam results etc,where waiting for an hour or two matters?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 648.

    I hope Waitrose follow the Sainsbury checkouters example and refuse to serve her

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 647.

    565. Mandy - US owned supermarket I go to has well trained personnel -
    your chatty couple would be gone by the end of the week.

    I had my groceries on the conveyer - woman in front of me had been chatting on phone - her bags were packed when she questioned the bill - manger came over - had the woman pay then took her to closed register to recheck her bill -- so I could check out.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 646.

    I agree with Sainsbury's backing their worker on this. It IS rude to continue a conversation on your mobile whilst carrying out any social transaction with someone else.
    On the other side of the coin however, would Sainsbury's discipline a member of checkout staff for continuing a conversation with another colleague whilst processing a customer's purchases?
    This has happened to me more than once!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 645.

    Sainsbury are wrong in not giving the cashier more public support. It is very rude to conduct or continue a telephone call whilst being served at a counter. Service time is usually short and the customer can soon return a call. People who think it is acceptable, need a lesson in good manners. If they take their customer away from Sainsbury's, great, the world will be a better place!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 644.

    "Yeh, that's right Gary I'm on this HYS forum thingy...it's a right laugh...what...she said WHAT...what did you say...you didn't........."

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 643.

    @621 James - How dare you refer to someone as a check out skivvy! I'm sure you do some highly important job, but what give you the right refer to anyone like that. Retail workers are essential to everyone, and yes some of them may not be as skilled as you no doubt think you are, but at least they are working unlike some and providing an invaluable service that benifits the uk economy.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 642.

    This is not just a problem with mobile phones, it's a problem with etiquette in general. Loud music on your ipod or eating smelly food on the tube, talking loudly in a quiet area because you need to be heard. Some people just have not got a clue about the very obvious.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 641.

    As others have pointed out, I think it okay providing you at least apologiese to the cashieror at least offer a quick explanation. Business calls are not an excuse for being impolite. I have had to take business calls and while I am talking to the cashier I explain to my customer and ask them to give me a moment, they invariably do as they are courteous and polite too.

 

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