- a blog about food and value

Customer disservice in supermarkets

tescoirelandBad customer service in a supermarket? Leave your own personalised rant in our comments – but please don’t name names!

Angry Rant #1, by Catriona McGrath

Let me start by saying I am never shopping in Tesco again.  I’ve said this before but always gone back, drawn in by the convenience of its many locations and the fact that unfortunately it’s better stocked than my local Dunnes. But – this time! – I really mean it.

I went into Tesco in Paul Street Shopping centre, Cork on the way home from work this evening.  I just had a couple of things to pick up and, on a whim, I decided to get a couple of bottles of Copperberg.  I was packing my groceries as check-out girl considered the alcohol before looking at me and asking for ID.

Naturally I was flattered; who doesn’t want to be thought of as ten years younger or more?  I took out my driver’s license and without even looking at it the girl said, ‘No, only passport or garda ID card’.  ‘Pardon?’.  ‘We only accept Garda ID card or passport’.  ‘I’m twenty-eight, I don’t have a Garda ID card nor do I carry out my passport [it being an irresponsible and therefore immature thing to do – certainly not something your typical twenty-eight year old carries around].  I can however show you my full driver’s license, a document issued by the Irish government’.  ‘No.  We only accept Garda ID card or passport’.  More fool me I continued with my purchases with a face the colour of tomatoes instead of politely declining to continue with any transaction with Tesco.

Anyway, even though I was mortified this isn’t the cause of my certainty that I will never be shopping in Tesco again.  My mortification turned to rage after my subsequent dealings with a manager who can at best be described as passively rude and willfully unhelpful.  I straight away went to the customer service desk and explained my complaint.  The young man promptly called the manager over on the intercom (twice) and a couple of minutes later the check-out girl showed up.

I explained to her that I was mortified by what had just occurred and what had happened to which she replied; ‘We only accept Garda ID cards and passports’.  I’m sorry, could you repeat that please?  I think I missed it the first six times.  Actually what I said was ‘I understand that, the cashier told me as did the young man behind the customer service desk.  However, I don’t understand this policy.  I showed a government issued ID, why was I refused service?’.  ‘It’s policy to ask any who looks under 21 for ID and we only accept a Garda ID card or passport’.  Why, you flatter me!  ‘But why do you only accept Garda ID card or passport?’.  Eyerolling: ‘It’s Tesco policy’.  ‘But why is it Tesco policy?’.  I was then given that look you give the idiot who’s wasting your time: ‘because it’s a policy’.  Hmm… so, we’ve established that it’s a policy, how nice. However if you’re looking for an answer to the question ‘why do Tesco have a policy of not accepting an Irish driver’s license and will only accept a Garda ID card or a passport’, don’t ask her.

The funny thing is, if she had looked vaguely sympathetic or even once apologised for the inconvenience I probably would have been irritated but appeased.  Customer services courses these days seriously need to be reviewed.

Angry Rant #2, by Peter McGuire

dunnes-the-battle-beginsI’m fully aware that customer service agents are quite powerless. Like most of us, there’s a manager pulling the strings behind them, who’s being controlled byhead office, who in turn is subject to forces beyond their control. It’s like a Doctor Suess book, only without the fun.

Last week, I bought up an electric blanket in Dunnes, but immediately realised that it was (a) 20% more expensive than the one Argos didn’t have and (b) only half the size. What followed was an enormously frustrating 20 minutes of suppressed rage and the type of loathing that only people and cities can induce.

The cashier told me that I must go to the customer service desk. “That one over there,” she said, pointing. So I queued for 10 minutes as two customer service agents dealt with one woman’s perfectly simple problem (In fairness, it was made ten times worse by the woman queueing behind me, who insisted on loudly voicing her frustration to me, passers-bys, and staff members far away, rather than biting her tongue until it bled, like me).

When I finally made the top of the queue, the customer service agent told me “that electric blanket is a grocery item. You need to go to the grocery customer service desk.” My appeals – but I’ve queued for 15 minutes! But I bought it on this homewares floor! But I can’t eat it, so it’s not a grocery item! –  fell on deaf ears, and fair enough: she didn’t implement this system.

What irked me was not the customer service agent herself but the fact that Dunnes have selected, seemingly at random, where certain items can be returned, and they don’t give a shit that customers have to queue for 15 minutes before being sent away. A friend who worked in Dunnes over Christmas tells me that customers commonly complained about this system but were obviously ignored. Perhaps there’s a very clear rationale for this system, most likely relating to stock control. I asked the agent to pass on a suggestion: that they put up a sign advising customers to ensure they are indeed at the right customer service desk, so they don’t waste so much time queueing. Her response? “Tell you what, the grocery customer service desk is downstairs. Why don’t you tell them yourself.” Charming.

Now, I know that not everybody chooses their job, and even the friendliest people have off days. But I worked in customer service myself during college, and somehow managed to find the zen to be polite to both the nice and hideously nasty customers. It was my job. So, are Cat and I getting our knickers/ boxers in a twist over nothing? Or does poor customer service drive you crazy too?


  1. I used to work in an offie and we had the same ID policy. Apparently drivers liscences were too easily forged. To avoid this in future Id just get the garda age card. Other countries have to carry ID with them so I dont know why we get so offended when asked here.

    I can understand your frustration though – there is a big difference between a young looking 28 year old and a 17 year old.

  2. Are Garda Age Cards not a bit of a joke? I used to have one as a young lass but some pub wouldn’t accept it and demanded a passport.
    I’m 27 and occasionally get ID’d in the offie. I might look young but I know I don’t look 17!!! Laughing it off or saying “ooh thanks” usually works for me cos I don’t have a driver’s license and rarely have my passport on me.
    Damn you, Oil of Olay…

  3. Having worked on a customer service desk of a nasty big supermarket, I can tell you that the CSD staff have little more power to please a customer than the checkout staff.
    It’s a horrible job, you receive nothing but abuse from customers all day and there’s not much you can do to make them happy. Most of them seem to want you to turn back time for them. Unfortunately, they can only implement policy, if they go against it they get a worse bollocking from the manager than they do from the customer, and to make things more pleasant for said staff member, managers are often happy to overturn policy and make you look like a right plum in front of the customer (who will often return looking for the same non policy treatment and treat you like s**t again because you can’t give it to them still).
    Customers rarely have nice things to say to/about staff in retail, it’s far easier to complain and moan. Having spent more than ten years working in the service industry/retail, mostly at weekends, I can tell more stories about arsey customers than i can about pleasant ones. And yes, 98% of the time i will proffer your bag with a smile and be as apologetic as policy allows when needed, whether or not the customer as a person deserves it, but because the *insert unpleasant word here* is a /customer/ and should therefore be treated as they were the centre of the universe.

  4. In my personal opinion, the general standards of customer service in Ireland are very poor, particularly in chains like Tesco & Dunnes.

  5. I find Penneys customer service is great to deal with for what it’s worth.

  6. I don’t work in Customer Service, but I am checkout staff in Dunnes – we recently implemented a policy that we no longer accept Drivers Licences, only passports and Garda ID, same as Tesco. And it’s caused some amount of frustration, because there were no signs put up in our shop to advertise this change of policy.
    Anyways, I was talking to another of the girls about it yesterday, and she mentioned that one of her brothers has a licence with his picture on it and another, older brother’s details.
    While there is nothing we can do about accepting forms of ID other than what we’re allowed, most staff would be courteous about it at the least – a simple “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied, it’s store policy” isn’t that hard to crank out, and it usually serves to calm customers down somewhat.

    On the Grocery/Drapery divide, in Dunnes it is almost like they’re two separate stores – I work in a Dunnes, and we have separate managers, separate computer systems, our rosters are written by different people, we even work different hours – drapery staff will only ever work ’til close, whereas grocery are in til ten every night regardless.
    That said, we only have one customer service desk, so you can bring everything back there.
    Again, though, there really isn’t much the staff can do, and as already stated, some managers will stab you in the back to stop them from looking foolish in front of a customer. It can be very frustrating. =/

  7. I think we’re overlooking one basic part of customer service that has been completed dumped by the grocery stores; helping you pack your bags. Im tired of spending €120 minimum a month in Dunnes and having to struggle to pack my bags alone while the waiting queue gets frustrated and I go bright red.

  8. If the “Garda card” referred to is the Garda Age Card, it’s not ID. It says right on the card that it’s not proof of identity, only age. Whose age is unclear, because it doesn’t prove identity, but anyway, it is nothing like other country’s identity cards. It’s only use is to prove that the person pictured is over 18 and of legal age to buy alcohol. If they can make these cards that are supposedly unforgeable. why can’t they make the driver’s licenses unforgeable?

  9. I would like to make the point that it a complete waste of time and energy to make any complaint no matter how serious to a Tesco customer service where standards are so woeful I am starting to hyperventilate even thinking about it. The only way to have some impact is to write very fully to Tesco HQ in the UK.

    The example I’ll give is that some time ago I visted my local Tesco and went to purchase some musroom pasta sauce sold as fresh in a little plastic pot and discovered it was out of date. I queued at customer service in case some old person was poisened by said sauce and got a very lukewarm ok Ill let someone know. A few days later I went back to Tesco and the offending sauce was still on the shelf and was now really out of date ! I came home and wrote a complete snot of a letter to the UK head office and lo and behold an apology, thankyou and large Tesco voucher arrived by return of post. On top of that the problem of the sell by dates seem to be sorted ! I consider that to have to go to such lengths to sort something out is crazy.

  10. The only joy I’ve ever gotten from Tesco is to write a full and detailed letter (email) of complaint to head office. The in-store customer service is so useless that it becomes more of an aggravation than the original problem (which I made a point of including, very politely, in my email).

  11. Sorry – slight error in my rant. It wasn’t the check-out girl who eventually came to speak to me it was the manager. Peter won’t let me name her but the silly woman had a quirky spelling name which was unforgettable so I was at least able to name her in my angry letter to Tesco. Anyway, it was the MANAGER who was extremely rude to me and who clearly had no idea why Tesco had the policy she was repeating in true zombie fashion.

    As it happens, I got a phonecall from Tesco in Scotland a few days after my angry email and spoke to a very polite young man in customer service. He was all apologies, but, still could not explain the ID policy. Nice and all as he was I still won’t be returning to Tesco.

    Rosie, your letter writing skills are obviously of a higher calibre than mine as all I got was that phonecall!!

  12. Catriona, I think it was the threat of the Food Safety Authority that did it ! Potential food poisoning got their attention rather than my letter writing skills.

  13. It’s all down to ttitude, on both sides. Some customers can really be full of themselves and to be honest don’t deserve the staff to go beyond their call of duties. On the other end, some staff members can be pretty dismissive and handle your claim as if you were just some annoying bug. I always make sure to be polite because obviously it’s not the CS agents who implement rules and policies and when you complain about pricing errors they should not be blamed for it. But I hate when I get the comptented look that clearly says “though, you take it or you leave it”.
    I’ve had very good experiences with Dunnes staff, one of them even called me home to let me know they had found my daughter’s shoe. Tesco are a bit more tedious to deal with, but generally speaking they are not bad. Except the smart ass who told me they couldn’t sell me a box of chocolates that didn’t scan. I left it at that, but the next day the box was back on the shelves so I took it again and it still wouldn’t scan. When I asked the fellow at the CS desk, he repeated blankly “cannot sell it” so I told him “why do you keep it on the shelves, then?”, to which he just shrugged and told me that he couldn’t sell it, point blank…. My experience is that most supermarkets would give you the item for free if it doesn’t scan, or just take it off the shelves.

  14. I rarely shop in tesco as they have an appalling attitude to their customers. I also hate how we are (still) ripped of here in Ireland – if you want to raise your blood pressure compare the Tesco UK prices and clubcard points offers to the Irish ones. And how they rarely open the (wo)manned checkouts and force you to do the job yourself. However, on the odd occasion that it has suited me to shop there I indulge in a fun activity where I use the DIY checkout to weigh and compare the prices of packaged fruit and veg versus the loose stuff. It drives them nuts. Its a form of therapy for me….

  15. Tammi, I have sent an email both to Conor Pope and this site suggesting that scales be reintroduced in stores. It galls me to pay a per unit price on things like sweet pototaoes and aubergines.

  16. When bad customer service and angry customers collide

  17. Good job your weren’t buying teaspoons as well.

    Think it’s something to do with drugs

  18. Dunnes Stores have a knack or hiring the most socially retarded so called management and staff most of my dealings with the chain have fell short of the normal service you expect when buying from a so called bigger retail chain,today being the most recent experience, where as walking down past the checkouts at five mins to closing I got a manager gasp “Jesus Christ” at my nerve to walk into his outlet on a saturday evening…I had to laugh at it really. I rarely shop in the place due to the brutal staffing and bad Human resources dept. the place obviously has and actually feel sorry for anyone associated with the place to be honest.