First Person - with Kevin McRoberts

Kevin McRoberts, Fife Free Press
Kevin McRoberts, Fife Free Press

’TIS the season to be jolly ... but on the evidence of my weekend shopping trips, goodwill clearly isn’t extended to shop workers.

I visited two shops on Sunday, one a supermarket for the weekly food shop and the other a High Street store. I queued in both at the checkouts. Not big queues. Just a couple of people in front of me.

It didn’t take too long in either shop, just a few minutes, but from the reaction of the woman in front of me in the supermarket, you’d think she’d been there for hours.

She tutted and let out loud sighs, making sure everyone around her could hear, drummed her fingers on the side of the conveyor belt and kept looking at her watch in between staring daggers at the woman on the checkout.

When it was her turn to be served, she was still greeted with a cheery “good morning, sorry to keep you waiting” and the now obligatory “do you need a hand packing?”

Misery spreader

Her response was a dismissive grunt, followed by “bags, give me some bags”. No please, no thank you. Just more sighing as she stuffed her shopping into the carriers.

The only words she spoke after that was when she was paying and was politely asked if she wanted any cash back. She snapped back: “I’d have told you if I did.”

And that was it. She was off to spread her misery somewhere else.

When I was being served, I remarked about the obnoxious customer, and was told it wasn’t unusual but you have to try not to react.

She told me about a customer who demanded to see the manager then ranted about being insulted by an ill-mannered member of staff. Apparently, the checkout operator’s ‘crime’, on being blanked as she handed over the customer’s change and receipt, was to say: “That’s okay, don’t mention it.”

Second shop, and the woman in front hands over an item of clothing to be scanned. The barcode is missing. Sure, a bit inconvenient, but the checkout girl, probably only about 16, said she’d quickly go and check the code.

The customer’s reply? “Just forget it. I’ll go somewhere where people know what they’re doing.” She dumped another couple of items and left.

The poor girl looked embarrassed as other shoppers turned to see what all the fuss was about and she then had to explain to a supervisor what had happened.

Protecting staff

Maybe the strain of Christmas shopping is having an effect on people and making them more snappy. Certainly, according to the shop workers union, USDAW, many of its members say the number of abusive incidents increases dramatically during the festive period. As the shops become busier, customers become more stressed and sometimes things can boil over.

But USDAW says the threat of verbal abuse and physical attack is a year round worry, and research by the British Retail Consortium indicates that in the last 12 months, incidents of violence and verbal assault against retail staff has increased by 83 per cent.

Indeed, the problem is so bad, USDAW is calling for the introduction of a Protection of Workers Bill. The law currently gives extra protection to emergency workers who are the victims of physical attack, and the proposed bill would give all public facing workers similar protection.

I know people reading this will say it works both ways, they’ve been in shops where they’ve experienced poor service, and perhaps come across staff who’ve been just as obnoxious and rude.

But from my experience I’d suggest it’s the customers who cause most of the problems.

It’s worth remembering many retail staff work ridiculously long hours to make sure we get as much opportunity as possible to buy all the gifts, food and drink we want for Christmas, and they will receive very little reward for it.

We don’t need to make it any harder for them.