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 760.

    I'd welcome a debate as to why Sainsburys advertise 18 packs of loo rolls as "bigger pack better value", when it's actually cheaper to buy two nine packs.

    Rip off Britain !

    Moral of the story : always take a calculator to the supermarket. "Offers" aren't always what they seem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 759.

    Number of times the cashier does not ever bother to acknowledge me when I am at the check out. Maybe its because I am an asian!!

    Etiquettes should be on both sides of the till.

  • rate this

    Comment number 758.

    250. Will Collett

    I couldn't agree more. How you got 1 thumbs down I'll never know. There must be some really miserable till attendents out there!

    Next they'll be complaining that our kids are making too much noise.

    "Now stand in the queue quietly and pay attention to me while I scan your goods! Without me you are not getting your shopping."

    Errr online shopping just became more appealing..

  • rate this

    Comment number 757.

    You may as well be rude because once you leave the planet nothing
    matters. Enjoy yourself while you have it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 756.

    The checkout operator should have rung the ladys stuff thru and then pretended she had to change till rolls and kept her waiting around for 10 mins chatting to a colleauge while offering incincere apologies and giving her those tight lipped sarcastic smiles of faux sincerity. It would have been fun to see the customer go thru all shades of red to a nice purple shade of apoplectic rage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 755.

    I agree with the check out worker, how can anyone possibly know what is going on with their purchase if they are nattering on their mobile phone. Its so bad mannered!! Sainsbury's are better off without Ms Clarkes custom, serves her right if she now has to pay more for her groceries in Waitrose!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    When I heard Sainsbury's had apologised to the customer, I didn't believe my ears! It's grossly impolite to hold a conversation with someone else when being attended to. If she went to a hotel reception desk and the receptionist was on the phone, I presume she would wait until the receptionist had finished the call, rather than attempt to check in, which is very similar to what she was doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.

    @ 741 RobinTheBoyWonder- thanks,your comment is much appreciated. Perhaps all the people here see far more of the ear-hugging mobile use than we do in wales.Perhaps people have more time for each other if they live outside the city.Perhaps we are getting more rude/insular as a nation, but I see more kindness and politeness than the reverse,and pass that on to those who i meet also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 752.

    its daft, who cares if the person your serving is on the phone you probably wont see them again.Most checkout workers in supermarkets and shopes are often talking to each other&ignoring the customer half the time any way that or gumpy when serving if I was refused to be served while I was on the phone I'd probably leave my stuff at check out and walk out,they are being just as rude too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    Its bad manners when you are deliberately distracted when you are supposed to be paying attention to someone or something.

    I dont think its rude to carry on with a conversation once you have said hello to the Checkout person and the process of scanning the items is underway.

    Would it be rude to talk to my daughter who had come shopping with me while dealing with a checkout?

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    To some it might seem trivial, but general etiquette and behaviour are important. Each new generation seems to be getting worse than the one before. Good on the Sainsbury's worker, more people should be challenged for rude behaviour! The other thing I hate are people behind me in shop queues who put the money on the counter for their purchase while I'm being served then walk out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    738 BethWales - apologies, with the way the forum moves and slow reading, must have missed that or mis-read it. you're right, that's not rude.
    It's more about tolerance than manners. A post earlier complained of train users on mobiles, loud music and the smell of food... With more cultures & people in this country than ever before, need to learn tolerance as much as good manners. Both is better!

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    Are people not taught basic manners anymore?

    Speaking on a phone, rather than talking to the person in front of you, is rude and highly disrespectful.

    It says, in effect, that you are unimportant and that you are a side-issue, whilst the person persists, concentrating on their phone-chat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    I applaud absolutely the checkout worker declining to serve a customer while she was using her phone. The reverse should also apply however. How often do we see the checkout operator continuing a converstaion with their colleagues, ignoring the paying customer. Shop assistants eating or chewing gum is also another of my pet hates. Let's bring some decorum back to the 'shop face'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    740. AlErgic
    The problem being that those with bad manners do not care as proved by marking down a statement showing how manners work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    728. sodapop

    And I thought I was simply being helpful.

    Feel hurt now, wish I'd not been given the OED!! - storms off, petulantly, to Sainsbury's with phone at ear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    Cell phone users look silly and strike one as rude at 'all' times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    Doctor Bob 64
    "A customer is one of...the most important people in any retail organisation and as every sales person in certain kinds of outlets knows, customers can be exasperating at times. But without them the retailer hasn't got a business."

    Which is why a retailer should not anger its decent customers by pandering to the minority who think that everyone else should wait on their convenience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    739. Arma1
    You only truly appreciate the sense of utter dismissal when you are on the other side of the counter. It feels as though the customer regards you with contempt.
    Just back from Sainsburys where the staff seem vaguely embarrassed but quite motivated by all this... not a mobile phone to be seen. Great!

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    "716.beth wales
    @ 711 Mohammad- sometimes it is an emergency, but judging from the mark-downs my comments have had, being a carer on call is a far less important job then a checkout operator."

    Beth: I don't understand why you keep getting marked down since you keep stressing that you apologise if you do have to take a call when doing something else.
    This is about manners and that is polite!


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