Supermarket Repeatedly Challenging a Customer's Age| Terrible Customer Service
While unemployment here in the UK is falling, wages have pretty much flatlined, and so people are still feeling the pinch. In this climate, the so-called big four supermarkets (Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) are slugging it out to win our custom.
Like all big businesses today, supermarkets take customer service very seriously; they don’t want to be seen to be less attentive than their competitors. Sometimes, however, the smiling face slips to reveal a not-so-caring side. This hub looks at my own experience in dealing with the customer service department of Morrisons supermarket.
A forgettable face
My partner, Lucy, will be 25 years-old at the end of this month, and she has lived here for almost two-and-a-half years. We live directly opposite a new Morrisons supermarket that was opened last year. Prior to this opening, we used the old Morrisons, which was across the car park.
Lucy smokes, so obviously she buys her tobacco products from the closest outlet – Morrisons. In the time she has been here, she has been asked to produce ID literally dozens of times by the small band of staff who operate the tobacco counter. Seriously, she has been asked to show her passport more times than Judith Chalmers.
We have both complained to the tobacco counter staff about these repeated ID checks, but to no avail; they keep on coming. One counter assistant offered a shockingly self-centred justification for her repeated demands for ID, as you can see in the email text below. Lucy has become so fed up with the repeated charade of verifying her age to the same people over and over that she now shops elsewhere for her tobacco products.
I don’t want to come across as a Victor Meldrew type serial complainer, but if I have been wronged, then I will speak up. I sent Morrisons customer service department an email that highlighted Lucy's miserable saga. The entire mail is printed below, along with the astonishing reply I received.
How to do it right
My original email
My partner will be twenty-five-years old at the start of September. She has lived in this town, Blyth, for two-and-a-half years now, and during that time she has used Morrisons on a regular basis to buy tobacco products – first in the old, now demolished store, and now in the new building that replaced it.
If we take a conservative estimate of the number of visits she has made to the tobacco counter in Morrisons, say 1.5 per week, over the two-and-a-half years she has been here, that makes a total of almost 200 visits. Now, either the Morrisons tobacco counter is seriously overstaffed, and a different assistant served my partner each time, or else the small number of counter staff are not paying attention to the job in hand.
My girlfriend complains that the same staff ask her repeatedly to show that she is old enough to purchase tobacco products (by almost seven years, I might add). How on Earth were these people trained to deal with customer IDs? I work in a local bar, and I ID people all the time. Once they have proved to me that they are old enough to be on the premises legally, I need not ask for ID again. Yet some of the staff on the Morrisons tobacco counter seem to think my partner is a sort of Benjamin Button character who is actually getting younger with time.
“I know she was old enough to buy tobacco last week, but I had better check again this week, just in case.”
Have you any idea how inconvenient, not to say embarrassing, it is to be asked repeatedly to verify something that you have already verified dozens of times before?
On more than one occasion my partner has been asked to prove her age when she was without any ID. When this happened, my partner was put to the inconvenience of either going home to get her passport, or, if I was present, getting me to buy the tobacco for her. In the latter cases, We have voiced our irritation with counter staff (politely), but the demands for ID persist. I reiterate that she is only days away from being twenty-five-years-old, and she has been a regular customer at the tobacco counter for over two-and-a-half years, for Heaven’s sake. Are your staff incapable of remembering faces?
Things were not helped by the attitude of one counter assistant who gave me the following bizarre explanation for continuing to ID my partner.
“I know she is over eighteen, but I have to keep asking for ID in case there are inspectors about.”
This is an outrageous thing to say. It is not the job of your staff to inconvenience customers for the sole reason that they can be shed in a good light if the ‘inspectors’ call.
The most recent occasion my partner was asked for ID was last Friday (8th August). She has become so fed up with the constant requests for ID from people who have checked her details many times before, that she has started to buy her tobacco products from a local newsagent’s, where she showed her ID once and they now serve her without question. Why can’t the staff at Morrisons tobacco counter show a similar level of efficiency?
I must say that not all of the staff at Morrisons tobacco counter request ID repeatedly; one assistant checked my partner's ID and hasn't asked again since. There does seem to be, however, a hard core of sticklers who are determined to inconvenience customers by repeatedly asking for verification of details they are already fully aware of. As for the counter assistant who inconveniences my partner in case the’ inspectors’ are around – well that is simply unacceptable.
An explanation as to why Morrisons counter staff repeatedly ID my partner, despite knowing that she is old enough to legally purchase tobacco products (by seven years) would be welcomed.
Regards . . .
The other side of the coin
I was driving past another of the big four supermarkets and I pulled in for some groceries. I had left my debit card at home, but I remembered that, I had my trusty loyalty card with me. I asked at the customer service desk how to redeem my points, and I was told to hand over my card at the checkout and pay via that, exactly the same as when paying with my debit card. I was also told that there was £7.50 on the card.
I bought a few items that came to £6.92, and I bagged them at the checkout. I handed over my loyalty card, and the assistant swiped it.
“That’s forty-two pence to pay,” she said (to my utter horror). I had no cash on me and, to the irritation of the people in the queue that was forming. I told the assistant that I had enough on my card to cover the cost of the items in my bag. She called for the manager.
The manager checked my card, and saw that there was £7.50 on it. She couldn’t understand why I was being asked to pay towards the items that were only £6.92. She told the checkout assistant to cancel the sale, and I took my shopping and red face towards the help desk. The manager made a phone call, and the mystery was solved.
What happened is that staff were unaware that I could redeem my loyalty points in increments of 50p. Everything in between must be paid for in cash. I could pay for my items up to £6.50 in loyalty points, but this left a shortfall of 42p.
I wrote a letter to the manager telling him of the embarrassment that was caused because staff didn’t seem to know exactly how the system worked. I was told to pop in next time I was passing and to ask for the manager. I did this and I was taken into an office for an informal chat over a cup of coffee. The manager apologised for my embarrassment, but then he thanked me for highlighting the problem of staff not knowing about the 50p increment rule. He said that all staff were now up to speed with the system.
Then he took me onto the shop floor, and I was invited to take a case of beer of my choice. I left the store happy with the manager’s response to my complaint – aided by the 24 cans of lager that were under my arm.
To be honest though, the beer was less important than the professional manner my complaint had been dealt with.
The reply I was sent
Good Morning Mr Young,
I am sorry to learn of the problems you experienced in our 203 Blyth store recently when trying to purchase alcohol.
In order to avoid the sale of age-restricted products to people below the minimum age, our Company policy in relation to the sale for age-restricted products is Challenge 25. This policy ensures that any person attempting to purchase and age-restricted product for themselves who appears under the age of 25 will be challenged to produce proof of age. This approach is industry standard.
Under our Challenge 25 policy, we accept the following proof of age documentation: -
- European Photographic Driving Licence (including provisional),
- Proof of age cards carrying the PASS hologram
- and UK Military ID
I apologise for any inconvenience or embarrassment that this refusal may have caused, but hope you now understand the reasons behind this decision.
Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Can you even believe that response? Clearly the customer service adviser who dealt with my complaint hasn’t even bothered to read my email. My grievance wasn’t about me being asked for ID once when buying alcohol (I’m in my fifties), it was about my partner being repeatedly asked for ID by the same staff over and over when buying tobacco products.
I noticed that in the above email, there is a double space between the words ‘Blyth’ and ‘store’. I could be wrong, but I suspect that the store details have simply been pasted into the boilerplate text of a stock reply email. Even if this is not the case, it’s a pretty poor example of caring customer service.
So my initial complaint, which I think is a perfectly valid one, has not been dealt with, despite my 650 word email. Now I feel obliged to complain at the appalling response I received to that complaint as well. I will add any updates to this hub as they occur.
Thank Heaven for Lidl and Aldi.
A face-to-face confrontation
As it happens, I was with Lucy in Morrisons today and for the umpteenth time, a (now) 25-year-old woman was asked to prove that she is older than seventeen. I stepped in and asked to speak to the manager, and while we waited for his arrival, the counter assistant told me that the law requires her to ask for ID, even though she knows the buyer is old enough to buy tobacco products. She also said that she had never asked Lucy for ID before – this is not true.
The manager came over and he lamely supported the counter assistant’s claim that the law demands that IDs are checked repeatedly, even when the counter assistant already knows that the buyer is old enough to purchase tobacco products. I challenge anyone to show me where the law states this. I got the distinct feeling that the manager was out of his element, and he had no more idea on the finer points of Challenge 25 than a poorly hedgehog would. My suspicions were confirmed when I put this to him:
“If that’s what the law states, then at least one of your counter staff is not doing her job properly, because she doesn’t ask for ID every time.”
He then told me that the decision to ask for ID was down to ‘the discretion of the counter assistant’. So his statement that it was a requirement of the law to ask every time must have been a porky then.
After this blatant contradiction, I became utterly fed up with the manager's 'no surrender' refusal to concede that his staff were unnecessarily inconveniencing my partner. I told him he was spouting the stuff that comes from the end of the bull that doesn’t bellow, and I left the store.
I don't know if counter staff are on some sort of power trip or what, but there must be some explanation as to why they repeatedly ask someone for ID when they are fully aware that they don't need to.
More bland waffle
Here is the reply I received to my complaint about the reply to my initial complaint. As you can see, it does not even make reference to the issue at hand. This is customer service at its poorest.
Dear Mr Young
Thank you for contacting us. I am sorry that you are disappointed with the response you have received in connection to your complaint.
Regrettably, there is little that I can add to the explanations and reassurances given to you. What I have tried to do is to give you detailed and honest information on our stance on the subject based on your complaint.
I am sorry you remain disappointed but there is little more I can add to this information already given to you.
Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Here we go again
At the risk of boring everyone half to death by repeating the same message, here is me reply to that reply:
Dear Ms W
Re: Your Ref *******
The two replies I have received in relation to my original email have been woefully inadequate, and neither has even come close to addressing my complaint. Your own bland response is completely devoid of any reference to my complaint as had been your predecessor’s, and my feeling is that neither of you even bothered to read my email.
Had you notified me that you had sent a memo to the staff at your Blyth store reminding them that once they had checked the ID of a customer, then they needn’t repeatedly ask for age verification, then I would have been happy with that.
You could also have issued me with an apology for the completely inadequate response to my initial complaint. I might remind you that my complaint was in relation to my 25 year-old PARTNER being REPEATEDLY asked for ID when buying TOBACCO products at your Blyth store (this has gone on for over two years now). The reply I received to this complaint referred to ME being asked for ID ONE TIME when buying ALCOHOL. Nowhere in my email did I mention me being refused service (I’m in my fifties), nor did the word ‘alcohol’ appear anywhere in the text – but you’d know this already had you bothered to read my email.
Furthermore, on September 1st, when my partner was challenged yet again at your Blyth store, I stepped in and asked to speak to the manager. What he said shows that management and staff at the Morrisons tobacco counter are devoid of the slightest clue as to the workings of Challenge 25.
The counter assistant told me that the law states that ID must be asked for repeatedly, even when the age of the customer is known. The manager agreed with this nonsense (I challenge you to show me where it says this in law), until I put it to him that one of the counter assistants does NOT check my partner’s ID, and so, if what he says about the law is true, then she is not doing her job properly, and she should be disciplined.
His reply to this was that asking for ID is down to the ‘discretion of the counter assistant’.
Did he really say that ID must be asked for by law, but the decision on making any such challenges is down to the discretion of the counter assistant?
While it would be nice to live in a world where abiding by laws was down to the discretion of the individual, I don’t think it would work. For starters, I wouldn’t have paid my car tax if it was left to my discretion.
Clearly this blatant contradiction demonstrates that the manager and staff at your Blyth store have no idea on the working of Challenge 25 – the law most certainly does NOT state that people should provide ID repeatedly (again, I challenge you to show me where the law states this – please forward me the section that says repeated ID checks are a requirement of law).
I might remind you that this entire sorry saga is documented in an online post, and I will add to it as I receive replies from your laughingly named customer service department.
J Young (Mr)