Retail Work should not require Hazard pay and body armour.

I tried something new last night. While grocery shopping, I used the Sainsbury’s Scan and Pack app. I used my phone to scan each item and packed my bags as I went. It worked okay. I’ll probably use it again. No queueing for the till, very little human contact.

I’ve always resisted using these ‘efficiency’ measures the supermarkets put in. I don’t use the self checkout if I can avoid it. I know the ultimate goal of the management is to eliminate staff and I don’t support that. It’s also nice to see the same people at the tills each week, and to have that familiar human interaction.

Last week I discovered that my supermarket closes its manned tills at 8pm, leaving only the self service, hence my use of Scan and Pack this week. Last week I was annoyed at the inconvenience. I have now rethought my position.

Closing the tills at eight allows staff to finish work at a reasonable hour, and possibly have a life outside work. As I work in retail, I can appreciate this. Lately our busiest time seems to be just before closing. Some customers are fine; they make their purchase quickly and get out. However, many seem to believe as long as they are through the door before closing, they can stay as long as they like. The most offensive thing is their indifference to the inconvenience they are causing the staff. I used to accept that as the way of the world, but somehow the pandemic and the lockdowns have taught me the value of my own time and, by extension, the value of other peoples time.

Other people’s time is not more valuable than mine.

There’s also a darker reason I agree with limiting customer contact with staff. Some customers have always been indifferent to staff; they aren’t rude or polite, they just see you for your function, not as a person. That’s fine, I can cope with that. Lately though, that indifference has turned to hostility, anger, and in some cases, violence.

100 of Britain’s leading retailers have petitioned the government for laws preventing the public from abusing retail staff. The problem has gotten so bad we need laws to curb behaviour that used to be unthinkable. But somehow we’ve reached a point where people think it’s acceptable to take out their frustrations on someone they perceive as powerless.

Just to let you know, If you can’t get what you want in a store, the shop worker in front of you is almost certainly not responsible. They probably don’t do the ordering, they don’t control supply lines, and they aren’t psychic, didn’t know you were coming, so they couldn’t save whatever item you wanted.

Recently, 5 people were arrested at a brawl in a supermarket. 3 of them were in their 30’s and were dressed as Spiderman, Batman, and Ali G. Spiderman shoved, kicked in the chest, and then punched the female worker who tried to stop him entering the stockroom. The brawl kicked off after that.

When did venting our anger in public become alright? We all still say it’s unacceptable, but it’s happening more and more. Maybe with the lockdowns and forced isolation, we’ve all forgotten how to deal with people. Like when I stopped taking milk in my coffee, I became lactose intolerant. My body forgot how to process lactose. We need the daily social interaction of we forget how to do it.

There may yet be hope. 6 weeks ago, a customer verbally abused me when I asked to see her mask exemption badge. Said she didn’t have to show the badge because this wasn’t Nazi Germany, and generally spewed a lot of ignorance, bile and disregard for the health of others.

She came back to the shop the other day…. and Apologised. Granted, it took her six weeks to actually do it, and she said she was going to write a letter, but didn’t want anything documented. And I am willing to bet she reconsidered her behaviour after other people censured her for it, rather than coming to the realisation on her own, but nowadays I’ll take what I can get. She apologised. If this Karen can learn to deal with people in public again, maybe everyone else can too.

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Hope says:

    Another very well written piece . . . you might have even inspired me to use the scan & pack app next time I’m out!

    Liked by 1 person

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