Thursday 7 July 2016

Sainsburys - The Anatomy of a Complaint

The change last year in the policy of UK supermarkets to charge customers for plastic bags led to a number of confrontations with customers who wheeled their trolleys to their cars after payment so as not to pay for bags. For my part, I have generally used the stronger, reusable "bags for life" at different 'local' and 'super stores' near my home.
But on one occasion in January earlier this year, an overzealous security guard confronted me at the self-service as I prepared to pay for a few items because I had entered with two bags of already purchased items. These I had obtained at a larger Sainsbury's store and had stopped by at this smaller local near my place to collect a few extra items.
This is my story of how I got my feathers ruffled and the chronology of my response which culminated in an apology and the offer of a gift card as compensation.

The Manager
Sainsbury’s Local

12th January 2016

Dear Sir or Madam,
Complaint regarding the conduct of a security guard at your store on 10th January 2016
I wish to lodge a formal complaint against a security guard working at your store in regard to an incident which occurred at about 5PM on Sunday the 10th of January 2016.
I live locally and over the years have done a great deal of my shopping at the Sainsbury’s superstore at XXX XXXXX. I have previously shopped at your recently opened XXXX XXXX local on two or three occasions and intended to go there to purchase a number of drinks after shopping at the XXXXX superstore.
The reason is that I wanted to purchase items that are not available at local stores such as frozen lamb chops. And while the drinks I wanted to purchase from the local are available at the superstore, I wanted to buy them at a location closer to my home as I was journeying by foot and did not wish carry a heavy load for longer than necessary.
The Incident
1. I arrived at the store at about 5PM and proceeded to take a shopping basket. I was carrying two shopping bags: one Tesco and the other Cooperative.
2. I obtained the following items:
A six-pack of Supermalt beverage
A 500ml bottle of Rekordelig Strawberry Lime Cider
A 1.5 litre bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice
3. I proceeded to a self-checkout. I had checked all three items and was waiting for a member of staff to confirm my adult status in regard to the cider when the security guard intervened.
4. He marched towards me and demanded that I produce a receipt and empty the contents of both bags so that each could be checked against the receipt.
5. I was absolutely stunned by this act which I considered to be both unwarranted and aggressive.
6. The justification offered by the security guard for this extraordinary request was that some of the contents in my bags were “the same” as were sold in the store.
7. I was still reeling from this when I enquired as to whether it was Sainsbury’s policy to ask customers to empty the contents of their bags in such situations. He replied, “No”.
8. He again ordered me to produce a receipt and carry out his order. At this point I responded by telling him that I found his conduct unjustifiable and insisted that the store manager be called.
9. Two male members of staff appeared and he abruptly told one to search the contents of the bags. I was so taken aback by this that I exclaimed, “Who is in charge here?”
10. I brought out my receipt obtained from the XXXXX Superstore and while holding it up for all three to see, firmly stated that as a point of principle, I would not be handing it over and would not be subjecting my bags to an unwarranted examination.
11. I then informed them that I was aborting my transaction and requested a complaint form or details of where I could make a complaint. One of the two Sainsbury’s staff then wrote the following e-mail address on a small piece of paper:
12. I also requested the name of the security guard and the name “XXXX” was written down. The security guard in question was of South Asian origin, about 5-foot-8, with a crew-cut hairstyle and uneven facial complexion which may or may not be a product of vitiligo, the skin disorder.
13. I then took my bags and walked out of the store’s exit door near to where the security guard in question had now relocated himself. Needless to say, no security buzzer went off.
14. Since the introduction of the charge for supermarket plastic bags, I have regularly made use of the stronger, reusable variety. During this time, I have made shopping trips to nearby a nearby Tesco Metro and a Cooperative store and entered either store with purchased goods in one or two bags. I have never encountered anything such as to which I was subjected at your store.
15. The incident left me in a distressed and embarrassed state. I felt that the unwarranted personal intrusion in a place where there were members of the public, some of who may live in proximity to me, served to defame me. Further, I believe that the security guard’s admission that there is no policy to automatically search bags with previously purchased content leaves the strong impression that I have been subjected to a form of profiling.
I am deeply outraged.
16. I feel it incumbent on your store to clarify its policy in regard to customers who enter your premises with bags containing products purchased elsewhere.
I would be grateful for you to advise me of the format of your complaints procedure indicating how you will proceed with an investigation, the time frame during which I can expect a response as well as the options available to customers who may wish to pursue the matter further than store level.
I look forward to receiving a response from you at your earliest convenience.
Yours faithfully,
Mr. Ade Makinde
The initial response from the Sainsbury's 'Local' a day later via e-mail (13th January 2016):
Good morning,
My name is XXXX XXXXXXX and I am currently the deputy manager in the store.
First of all let me apologise for the incident on Sunday – we in no way condone this sort of behaviour and would like to apologise for the distress this has clearly caused you. Our security guards work for a company called Securitas and should be fully aware of what is expected of them whilst working in Sainsburys stores – I have forwarded this email to the regional manager for our area XXXXX XXXXX and expect a reply today at some point. The guard has not been in store since Sundays events – so I shall sit down with him one on one if he is in today and try to understand why this has happened. If you could forward me your telephone number if you feel you would prefer to talk over the phone, please do, unless you prefer to communicate by email which I am also most happy to oblige.
I will keep you updated as soon as I have any further information.
Again – we would like to apologise for this incident and I can assure you we will certainly be taking some action.
Kind regards,
Email that day from the executive office of Sainsbury's as I had copied the Chief Executive, Mike Coupe into my original complaint:
Dear Mr Makinde,
Thank you for your contact. We really appreciate you taking the time to get in touch as your feedback is very important to us. Your complaint is now being managed here at our Executive Office.
We want to ensure you receive great service, and have started to review your complaint. We will assign you a dedicated Case Manager who will be in touch with any updates, and to introduce themselves within the next 72 hours.
Meantime, if you would like to speak with a member of the team, please call 0207 695 8900, quoting the reference above.
Thank you for your patience.
Executive Office
They got back to me in February:
Dear Mr Makinde,
Thank you for your email to Mike Coupe.
If it is convenient, I would be grateful if you could call me on 020 7695 8900 or email me on with a daytime telephone number and a suitable time to call you. I have received further information and would like to discuss this with you.
We look forward to speaking with you soon.
Yours sincerely,
David Birse
Executive Office
There was a two week interregnum while I was busy with other things and then I wrote this on the 14th of February:
Dear Sirs,
I would be grateful for you to clarify the situation regarding my complaint about a security guard at your XXXXXXX XXXX XXXX store.
Firstly, I have had no response in regard to my request for clarification of whether the two Case IDs attributed to my complaint have been consolidated.
Secondly, I have expressly stated that I would like any "further information" such as has been received by David Birse of the Executive Office to be relayed to me in writing.
If the security guard in question denies the substance of the narrative that I have given, then I would like to see his written version of the facts.
This is of great importance because if he has in any way sought to justify his behaviour on a presumption of my conduct from the time of my entering the store through picking up the contents that I required up and up to the point where I was about to pay for the items at the self-service there will be:
1. Potential legal consequences
2. It will provide illumination as to whether Sainsbury's condones the profiling of its customers
3. If so, the general public should have the right to know about the condoning of profiling in a large supermarket chain such as yours.
Finally, I would be grateful for Sainsbury's to send me a copy of the procedure which is followed in regard to customer complaints or to direct me to the relevant link from which I can access such information.
I await a response at the earliest convenience.
Yours faithfully,
Adeyinka Makinde
Mike Coupe took the trouble to tell one of his minions to respond on his behalf:
Dear Mr Makinde,
Thank you for your email to Mike Coupe. I have been asked to respond on his behalf.
I wanted to let you know I will be conducting a full investigation on behalf of Mike Coupe into the comments you have raised. I hope to be in contact with you soon, normally within 5 working days. If the investigation process takes longer than expected, I will let you know.
We appreciate you taking the time to get in touch with us and will respond to you soon.
Yours sincerely,
David Birse
Executive Office
Note: Mike Coupe was once convicted -in abstentia- of 'embezzlement' by an Egyptian court and sentenced to two years imprisonment. It was a ridiculous case involving a soured business relationship between Sainsbury's and an Egyptian company which predated his appointment at the helm of Sainsbury's. He was later acquitted.
After two e-mails informing me that they are reviewing the case, I received the following email informing me that they had sent him for "further coaching" and were offering me a £30 gift card.
Dear Mr Makinde,
Thank you for contacting us. I am sorry you had such a poor experience when visiting our XXXXXXX XXXX XXXX Local store. I appreciate your patience whilst we looked into this for you.
We want our customers to be able to shop with us with confidence and peace of mind, and our colleagues are aware of the standard of service and security we expect. Whilst we do ask our Security Officers to be vigilant at all times they should do so without causing our customers any distress or embarrassment. It is therefore disappointing we let you down on this occasion.
Please be assured we have conducted a full investigation and it is clear our Security Officer did not follow our processes correctly. We have provided the officer involved with further coaching to help prevent a recurrence and will continue to monitor their performance closely. I can also confirm your case numbers have been combined and your reference number for this case is ECM-XXXX.
I realise you have been left with a poor impression of us and we certainly do not want to lose your custom. With this in mind, I would like to offer you a £30 gift card. If this is acceptable, please reply with your postal address details and we will send this to you. Alternatively, if you would like to discuss this further, please call me on 020 XXXX XXXX.
We are grateful to you for taking the time to contact us, giving us the opportunity to investigate. I hope I have reassured you of our commitment to our customers and we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Yours sincerely,
David Birse
Executive Office
(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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