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

    Comment number 700.

    It's so rude. We do this at my workplace when customers are on the phone. We ask them to stand to one side so other customers can be served while they have their chat. It's the only thing more annoying and rude than queue jumping.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    Note to self - when meeting Ms Jo Clarke (and her ilk), must remember to talk incessantly on my mobile phone. Maybe she'll then realise how inappropriate her behaviour was.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    @671 William, I tried holding my breath for a moment and then realised it was in vain. I am still breathing :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    When I go to work, I expect to be treated with respect.

    If anyone saw fit to talk on a mobile phone whilst also talking to me, I'd be much less polite than to ignore the person; I'd explain exactly what I thought of their rudeness / arrogance / ignorance.

    As I own my company, that may be a privelage I'm afforded more freely, but I'd absolutely back any of my staff who did / said the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    I get really annoyed when my wife checks her mails or sends a text while having a conversation with me. It's so rude, and has been the cause of many an argument. Sorry, did I say 'wife'? I meant 'ex-wife'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    663.Ron Taylor
    Sainsbury's have backed their employee. Why are people taking a pop at them?

    Because they have said they have backed the employee in private. It needs to be done in public. They also need to retract on their apology to the customer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    And of course the checkout person at the centre of this story has been, at all times, attentive and polite to the customers? I doubt it. Very rarely do I get a please or thank you at a checkout these days. One-sided debates displease me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    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....
    Where no doubt she will still expect to continue her ignorance.
    Unlike the rude Ms Clark, her actions have left me speechless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    Wonder if the customer had gone to her doctors and the GP spent her appointment talking to a friend on the phone whilst she was in the room would she feel the Doctor was in the right? I bet not if you wouldn't like it done to you don't do it to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    68.TJ1949 - " Will we get an opportunity to comment on "Unite boss attacks Labour leadership"? Or is this too contentious"

    With the Topic under discussion there is a principle involved and in the final analysis civilisation itself is at stake, think about it

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    Cantab 72:
    "Why is speaking on my phone to someone else regarded as rude? I apologise if I appear to be busier than you.... but there is absolutely no reason why I can't be talking and paying is there?"

    The evidence from many I get stuck behind at the checkout is that they Are incapable of talking and paying at the same time, and don't care two hoots about those of us waiting behind them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    @ 621.James

    "The customer should be knighted!"

    No, the customer should have been refused service. People like you haven't a clue about manners do you? It's a shame we can't issue your photo to every "check out skivvy" (your words) in the land so they can treat you appropriately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    As Waitrose is effectively owned by it's Partners (employees), perhaps they should organise a vote as to whether they will indeed serve Ms. Clarke, who has already shown herself to be a rude person, when she turns up at their store. Just because Ms. Clarke has stated she will move her custom to Waitrose, Waitrose do not necessarily have to accept it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Personally speaking, I think manners have gone down the pan in recent years. I think it is rude and ignorant to be using your phone whilst you are being served by someone, and puts the member of staff in an uncomfortable position, especially when they need to ask you something. People bang on about rubbish staff, but there are rubbish customers too. . . . . . Don't be one

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    @683 - or even better jam phone signals totally in supermarkets.
    That would stop the pathetic idiots who have to make a phone call to decide exactly which item or how many to buy as they dont have enough brain cells to make the decision themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    I was shopping in Sainsburys once when ,unfortunately, I overheard a man answer his mobile and he loudly voiced his annoyance to the caller because they had rung whilst he was doing his shopping. It never occurred to him to switch his mobile off whilst he was busy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    @ 675 that would be quite dangerous and foolhardy for those who need to keep in contact for possible urgent calls.
    @672 Colin- nice you could ignore it.Some of us don't have that freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.


    What about installing blocking devices at tills so that mobile signals are disrupted within 6 feet. Signage explaining mobile signals will not work within a certain zone would do the trick.

    Customers then have a choice, stay outside the zone (queue) while you finish your call then be aware you won't be disturbed once in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    @669 -- "@ 663.Ron Taylor - Baz, is that you?"



  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    Don't even get me started on sainsburies. If you want respect, try putting bread less than a week old on the shelves. Stop discontinuing foods that people like. You have staff in sainsburies that are rude enough to ask customers to mind out the way. If this happened in Waitrose, the checkout girl would be fired, and there'd be much more than just an insulting 10 quid gift voucher.


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