Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Lame, Half-Hearted Search for Justice in Sainsbury's

I was disturbed by events in my local supermarket yesterday. There's a woman I've seen often in there. She's quite elderly, grey-haired, frail, bent over as if with osteoporosis, and also, she's handicapped in some way. If that's the right word. No doubt I will be using the wrong term. Anyway, sometimes you see her in the street, talking loudly to her shopping trolley, and in the supermarket she mumbles, and shuffles around, and stares into space. I'm probably not describing this very well, but if you saw her, you would realise immediately that she's mentally not quite normal.

I was waiting behind her at the kiosk. She had a bag of items she'd just bought, and she was trying to return one of these items. I think it was a small packet of cheese. (I'm a little short-sighted but I don't like to wear my glasses in public because I'm vain.) Probably the cheese was worth about £1.50. But for some reason the staff were giving her a rather hard time. The assistant called over a supervisor and both informed her that she couldn't have a refund if she couldn't produce her receipt.

I thought this was a little hard. The staff in Sainsbury's must have seen her very often, and would know full well that she wasn't the sort of person who was going to be easily able to produce a receipt. (Half the times in my life I've needed to find a receipt, I've been unable to.) They blankly, and quite rudely, refused to refund her £1.50 and sent her on her way. She wandered off looking very old, frail and unhappy.

I wasn't very pleased at their insensitivity. They certainly hadn't been polite to her. Anyway, it might be Sainsbury's policy not to refund for an item if you don't have a receipt, but it's not the law. They might act like it is, but it isn't. It's just their policy. I know this protects them against shoplifting, but I really don't believe this woman is a shoplifter, and no one who regularly saw her shuffling slowly around would either. She had other items she'd paid for. I think they just wanted rid of her because she was annoying them with her loud voice, and staring into space.

I did ask the assistant why she'd refused the refund but she didn't want to answer. I thought I'd like to take it further but you know, sometimes things seem like a lot of trouble. So I left the shop, feeling quite grumpy about it all.

About fifty yards down the road I realised I'd left my gloves in the shop. (It wasn't that cold outside, but my hands are often cold anyway, no doubt due to my frozen heart) So I went back, retrieved my gloves and then, still angry, asked to see the manager so I could complain. You will note I only did this because I had to return to the shop. I did say it was a lame and half-hearted attempt at justice.

The duty manager arrived, a much older man. I complained to him. He was quite insistent that assistants were trained not to refund for an item without the receipt. Which, he said, was OK, because if there was a real problem, the shopper could ask to see a manager, and the manager would sort it out. But this, as I pointed out, was part of the problem. This frail, elderly, handicapped woman was quite obviously not capable of demanding to see a manger. She'd just shuffled off, looking disappointed and unhappy.

I told him I wasn't pleased at the way I'd seen her spoken to, which had been, I thought, rude and unhelpful. I really didn't see why a massive store like Sainsbury's couldn't just give her the £1.50 back and be done with it. He seemed moderately sympathetic, and said in the case of someone who was obviously frail - his word - they would normally use more sensitivity. He said he'd speak to the assistant and supervisor involved. I left the shop, feeling slightly better. And with my gloves.

I expect the total result of this will be nothing, except that all the assistants in this shop, which I visit most days, will now dislike me for complaining, and point me out as a trouble-maker. Ho Hum. Normally I'm sympathetic to shop assistants. It probably wears you out having to deal with customers all day, many of whom are no doubt rude and annoying. Still, I really didn't like the way they just brusquely dismissed this old handicapped woman's request.