Retail debate triggered after British checkout worker refuses to serve customer using her mobile phone

An online debate has been ignited after a supermarket checkout worker in the United Kingdom refused to serve a customer talking on their mobile phone.

The story was first reported by The Daily Mail, but has caused a ruckus on social media, with businesses and individuals tweeting or posting their support or disagreement.

The customer involved, Jo Clarke, was standing by the till waiting to unload her shopping when the checkout worker refused to serve her.

“When I stopped my conversation and said “Is everything okay?” she said: “I will not check your shopping out until you get off your mobile phone”,” she told The Daily Mail.

Upon leaving the store Clarke checked with the customer service desk whether or not there was a policy regarding customer speaking on the phone and was told no such policy existed.

Clarke submitted a complaint to Sainsbury’s and since then the supermarket issued a public statement saying: “We have apologised to Miss Clarke and offered her some vouchers. It isn’t our policy to not serve customers who are using a mobile phone,” the spokesperson said.

But the incident has sparked a local debate over the issue, which deals with a much broader problem of customers interacting with someone else while expecting to be served.


“Having a chat on the mobile phone is just like having a chat to the person standing next to them, it’s just impolite. The situation is – do I serve someone whose attention is elsewhere?” says Bentley’s retail expert David Gordon.

“If you want to try and be accommodating, then you say you’re happy to serve them, but in this case the staff member’s reaction was incorrect and Sainsbury’s reaction to apologise was the right one,” he says.

SmartCompany contacted Coles and Woolworths this morning and both major supermarkets said there was no policy in regards to dealing with customers who are speaking on their mobiles.

SmartCompany also asked Facebook users this morning what they thought of the issue and so far responses from retail workers have been critical of mobile phone usage.


Lana Wilson, who has worked at Cotton On Group, Telstra, Valleygirl and Adairs and found generally Australian retailers do not set policies for dealing with customers like Clarke.

“It was never a policy in my retail jobs, but it was always so awkward when customers were juggling a phone conversation while paying for the item – it made me feel like I couldn’t do the ‘retail connect’ stuff and have a conversation with them during the purchase process,” she says.

Catherine Gearing, a current IGA employee, says these situations arise all the time.

“I find it rude, but don’t really mind as long as they acknowledge my existence.”

“But…if you are dealing with a dishonest person, then it would be easy for them to steal from you by just giving you $10 less change. We never had a policy about mobile phone use, but I can understand why a company would have one to protect both staff and customers interests,” she says.

We’re keen to hear more opinions from SmartCompany readers – what do you think? Does your retail business have a policy about talking on mobile phones? Do you think it’s rude?

Share your opinion in the comments section below.




Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.