Sainsbury’s, guardians of all that is good

A few weeks ago I went into Sainsbury’s, accompanied by my girlfriend Elina, who was there to keep me company as I did some personal shopping. We were throwing a soirée that evening, so included in my long list of food was a bottle of champagne.

I got to the checkout and scanned everything through on the self service checkout. I had to call an attendant over because, as usual, the system went a bit crazy and my bags needed “verifying.” While he was over there I asked him to approve my alcohol purchase.

I’m 24 so on the boarder line of whether you really need to ID me even on a Check 25 policy, but he decided to, to which I quickly produced my driving license clearly showing I was no less than six years past the date in which I was legally allowed to buy alcohol.

That would have all been fine, but Elina, who was hovering behind me, not actually helping me in any way with my personal shopping, was then asked to produce ID. She didn’t have any. As such, I was declined the sale of the alcohol.

Now, I don’t mind carrying round ID, even though for me to be under age you would have to believe that I looked seven years younger than I actually am. While that’s quite a nice complement, there is no way any rational human being would look at me when playing guess the age, and think “that man is probably about 17.” Not least of all because people who are under 18 and are trying to get hold of some alcohol to go drink in a park somewhere don’t buy champagne. But I’ll overlook this, let’s pretend it’s a sensible policy.

When it really does get mental, is when everyone who is with me has to carry ID as well. As it happens, Elina is 23, but what if she wasn’t? What if she was 17? Does that mean that I shouldn’t be allowed to by alcohol with my personal shopping?

I put this to Sainsbury’s customer service team. They gave me a prompt but fairly nondescript reply, going through their policy in vague detail stating that…

If a group of customers go through the checkouts together, all may be asked to provide identification. If any member of the group is unable to provide ID when requested, we will be unable to complete the sale.

…and ending with…

Sometimes it can come across as over-zealous but it’s really important that colleagues don’t risk age-restricted products being used by anyone underage.

This argument, simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny however. Requiring everyone who goes through the checkout, even if it is just one person actually buying anything, to produce ID in no way limits the sale of alcohol to people underage because as only the person buying something is actually required, everyone else can just wait outside.

I could easily come along with some underage, make them wait outside, go in and buy nothing by alcohol for them, come outside and give it to them and Sainsbury’s would have effectively just sold alcohol to someone who is underage, according to their thinking.

Yet, when I come through making a purchase for myself, clearly as part of my weekly food shop, clearly not for underage drinkers to get drunk because it wasn’t White Lightning or Sainsbury’s Basics Table Wine, I am unable to complete my purchase because, for perfectly understandable reasons, Elina wasn’t carrying an ID (or money, or anything), because she wasn’t buying anything, she was just keeping me company.

In such situations I could of course just ask her to wait outside while I go in and do my shopping. This is probably a valid option if you don’t consider the idea of her coming to keep me company and then spending most of the time waiting outside the store, beyond ridiculous.

But of course this isn’t always an option – take for example a mother who is doing her weekly shop and wants to buy some alcohol. Her kids genuinely are under 18 and she can’t just leave them outside on the street while she completes her shop. To me, this seems like discrimination as their policy is clearly victimising a specific group here.

I asked them what their policy was for such situations in my original email, to which they ignored it, so I pressed them for an answer in my response. This is what they said…

We have to leave the judgement to ask for ID up to our colleagues, as it is them who can be prosecuted and fined for selling alcohol to underage customers. It’s important to note it’s also an offense to sell alcohol in the knowledge it will be passed on to someone underage, which is why we look for ID from the whole party.

If you were shopping with your daughter we would hope that our colleagues would use their judgement, but if they were unsure they would err on the side of caution and ask for ID.

So their policy seems to be that they don’t have a policy, but train their staff to ID people as often as possible, even at the risk at denying perfectly legitimate purchases or discriminating against people with children.

Fair enough (well, not really), that is their policy, but I disagree with it because I think it because I don’t believe that it actually prevents the sale of alcohol to people who intend to give it to underage people but I do believe it unfairly targets legitimate customers and even implies criminal behaviour when they suggest I could be buying alcohol for someone who is underage.

So I asked for the contact details of who I could write to, to express my concerns about the policy. My request was declined.

I’d like to be able to provide you with the contact details you’ve requested, unfortunately, this isn’t possible. The Think 25 policy wasn’t a policy created by one person or a group of people, it’s an initiative that Sainsbury’s as a whole has created and it’s something we all stand by.

As mentioned, this policy is supported by the British government and as such, we feel confident using this system.

So far, I’m not impressed. Supermarkets have a reasonable duty of care, and this seems way past the line of reasonability to me.



Don't have time to check my blog? Get a weekly email with all the new posts. This is my personal blog, so obviously it is 100% spam free.


Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 14th, 2011 at 2:43 pm and is filed under Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.