Sainsbury's welcomes debate on phone use after checkout row


The debate about phone usage: When should you hang up your phone?

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 920.

    I do not know where to start on this subject of etiquette. It seems that in every strand of society whether it is work home shopping socialising whatever manners has gone out the window. From mobile phone calls to watching television when you have invited guests to ignoring senior citizens society has lost the plot. Perhaps it is because our society is less Godlike than in previous centuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 919.

    Its how you do it - you can be rude, and ignore and slow down the checkout person and queue, or you can be relatively polite, while still dealing with the phone. The problem is some people don't get that the checkout has priority.

    Along the same lines - its super annoying at hotels if you are checking in, the hotel phone goes, and you have to wait for them to deal with the call. Unacceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 918.

    The use of Mobile phones has now become the most irritating activity within society. People walking up and down stairs, using escalators whilst texting or phoning people. People standing at shopping check outs or interrupting discussions because they wish to use their mobile is most annoying and ignorant. Ban phones from the workplace, ban phones from trains, ban mobile phones!

  • rate this

    Comment number 917.

    Give it a few years and the issue of talking on your mobile while paying for your goods will no longer be an issue because self service checkouts will be replacing staff!

  • rate this

    Comment number 916.

    hoad789 I wonder how long your business is going to last with your attitude. I wouldn't wish to deal with you if the service or goods you were offering were free of charge. I pity your poor staff, I hope they get a new job soon with an employer who no longer lives in the 19th century!

  • Comment number 915.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    David Holder With your attitude to the lowly paid checkout staff its a wonder you haven't been assaulted. What an obnoxious self important person you are. I doubt a lot of people would not put up with your company for more than a minute!

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    It's just plain rude to carry on with a phone conversation while someone is serving you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    Typical bad manners by someone with an inflated opinion of themselves. Pity the cashier didn't just call her supervisor and ask her to deal with this rude moron!

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    @772. Sums it up perfectly. Little else to be said except shame on you Sainsburys for pandering to this self important idiot. Suggest they follow the example of a store in Leeds which has a sign on the till which says "if you can't be bothered to end your phone call then we can't be bothered to serve you".

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    Perhaps Jo Clarke and the likes of her should be offered therapy for their mobile phones' addiction. In fact, lock them up until they can manage to be off these for at least a couple of hours after each call..
    The idiotic ring tones should also be banned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    Totally agree with the checkout assistant in not serving the customer. There is a total lack of respect in all areas of life these days. I get bumped in to each day by people busy texting on there phones and not watching where there going and you get no apology. Supermarkets should also focus on people feeding kids food off the shelves then paying for it later at the check out. Theft!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    I agree, using a phone while being served is rude, as is the till operator chatting to her mate like you are not there ''You been on your break yet Susan?" Holding out a hand for money, being deliberately slow to avoid more customers lining up on their checkout, all experienced at Sainsburys. Try Aldi, quick efficient staff and friendly with it, I bet half of you have never been in one

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    To add humour though I do often see couples walking hand in hand but both chatting on their mobile phones, I have this illusion of them chatting to each other cos their phones are tied to their ears and hands :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    I think it is right that, people shouldn't use their phones when at the checkout. On the other side of the coin I also think checkout staff shouldn't be having their own personal conversations with other checkout staff whilst your being served for one it is just as rude and two they are distracted from handling cash and keying in correct amount, so mistakes are made. Both sides need to respect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    To people on here saying that shop assistants are sometimes rude to customers.Two wrongs don't make a right. Assistants and customers should show mutual respect. One of the downsides of modern technology seems to be that some people think they can't function if their mobile isn't being given their attention at all times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    896 David Holder No one has said it is acceptable for anyone to be rude, that is the point of the whole debate. Maybe just maybe some 'asisstants' suffer so much abuse at the hands of the public & get so little support from their employer when abused they don't see the point in offering good service as they get so little recognition when doing so whilst CEO's get ridiculously large bonuses

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    For all saying asisstants are paid to serve you, yes they are but that does'nt mean they should be treated with any less respect. I'm sure you'd expect people to come to your workplace & treat you with respect. 'Small talk' is required so asisstants know what customers need, asisstants are not pyschic! When customers are'nt paying attention they are prone to making mistakes FACT

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    I don't think either Waitrose or all the other Waitrose customers will be celebrating too much about this news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    I think anyone who is being served by another should give them their full attention, therefore I think Sainsburys should have a policy to not serve anyone chatting on a mobile, and in fact any shop for that matter. It is rude and unecessary. I feel the same with listening to music via headphones whilst being served. Have some curteousy and pay attention to society


Page 1 of 46



  • Baby being handed overFraught world

    The legal confusion over UK surrogate births

  • Bad resultsBlame game

    The best excuses to use when exam results don't make the grade

  • Welsh flagDragon's den

    Why Wales will make its own mind up on independence

  • BKS IyengarFlexible guru

    The man who helped bring yoga to the West

  • Police respond to a shooting in Santa MonicaTrigger decision

    What really happens before a police officer fires his gun?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.