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 780.

    What a rude and ignorant woman this customer was. Her immediate priority was the purchase of goods, not a telephone call, whether received or made.

    She ought to have given her presence at the checkout, and the member of staff, her fullest attention out of common courtesy. Sainsbury's should back its employees in cases such as this, where they are doing their job under difficult circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    The customer is not always right. They think they are, just because they have the money. But with money comes responsibility and behaviour. That's one way of telling apart those that have money and those that don't. And that is usually why those without money haven't money. They are just too damn rude. Mind you mobiles are definitely a good way of picking out the self-important types too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 778.

    Edina Monsoon: "You can drop the attitude. You only work in a shop"

  • rate this

    Comment number 777.

    Don't be rude and don't take it personally when people are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 776.

    I think most people would agree that it`s rude to be talking on your phone when dealing with someone face to face and it was wrong for Sainsbury`s not to back their worker. That being said it`s also wrong for retail staff to continue talking to co-workers while serving a customer. I think politeness and common decency are sadly lacking in todays society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 775.

    Idiots and selfish bores who insist on using their mobile phones at the checkout are merely continuing the anti-social, self-centred behaviour they adhere to when in public. They put their phone to their ear and their eyes apparently stop working, they become blind to the presence of others, barging their way along as if only they existed. At least it indicates them as morons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 774.

    I think SAINSBURY should apologise to the member of staff, it's about time these company's stick up for the workers.there is no need to be on the phone at the cash desk,and very rude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 773.

    My mobile phone is hardly used, not used for social chat, I sit in the comfort of my home for that. Most decent minded people wouldn't be so rude as to use a mobile while at a checkout, I don't think an apology to such a rude customer was necessary!

  • rate this

    Comment number 772.

    What I find most disturbing is that someone would go to the press over a minor argument with a shop assistant... I guess the same kind of self-important person who considers it OK to hold a private phone call while being served at the checkout.

  • rate this

    Comment number 771.

    I work in a shop and seethe constant rude people every day.

    Some people can hardly bear to say anything let alone please and thank you!

    Just because we are shop assistants does not mean WE are to be treated like a piece of >>>> under your shoe.

    Sainsbury should have stood up for it employee but guess what they don't care one bit about its workers, just like every other British employer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 770.

    760. You Are Not Free

    You do understand that sometimes items go on to offer which means for a limited time certain items are sold as loss leaders to encourage more shoppers into the store. A well known one is when ltrs of spirits go on offer and are cheaper than the 70cl and still you have half wits demanding the 70cl one because they think because they are armed with calculators they know best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 769.

    "Sainsbury's welcomes debate on phone use after checkout row"

    I, very much, doubt it.

    What it means is that Sainsbury's is in the poo, receiving publicity that it could, quite frankly, do without.

    So its trying to make the most of a bad situation, by attempting to sound like Mr Reasonable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 768.

    "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."

    Oooh. What a flounce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 767.

    It *is* a bit rude to be on the phone whilst conversing with someone else. However - it's not "unbelieveably rude" - it's not the crime of the century and people should get over themselves if they think that cashiers shouldn't just get on with it rather than taking it as a personal affront equal in offence to a slap in the face."

    Would you feel the same if on the receiving end?

  • rate this

    Comment number 766.

    You Are Not Free
    aint that the truth! lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 765.

    @ 749 Sweet Blue Toffees- thanks-and yes it's about tolerance and treating others as you would wish to be treated.If I can remedy a dire situation on the phone when somebody calls me, i will-but not at the expense of anybody else,and certainly not be rude to someone who's making my life a lot easier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 764.

    Apologising to this woman was ridiculous; far better to have asked her to either display some courtesy to the people serving her or to take her custom elsewhere. She obviously lacked any conception of acceptable behaviour and needs some lessons in basic manners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 763.

    Unlucky Waitrose; you can't always choose your customers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 762.

    There's a tendancy nowdays for people & businesses to think if they phone you you have to answer & talk to them then & there, there's also a tendancy for people to think if the phone rings they have to answer & talk to the caller. Personally If its inconvenient or I cant be bothered then I dont answer & if its inconvenient or I'm not interested having answered then I politely put the caller off

  • rate this

    Comment number 761.

    It happened to me at Asda - refused service as I was on my phone - I'd just had a car accident, was shaken up and my husband was trying to calm me down. Wouldn't have minded so much if the lady had actually interacted with me when I did get off my phone, but she carried on scanning and didn't thank me for my money! If you expect someone to not be on the phone, at least acknowledge they are there!


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