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The horrible service of Woolworths Dickson

February 17th, 2012 at 07:30am

A couple weeks ago I had a very nasty experience in a supermarket. After it happened, I sent an email to 2UE’s John Kerr about it which he read out on the air. I deliberately omitted the details of the store in question at the time as I thought it was only fair to write to the manager of the store and allow him or her time to reply and correct the issue before deciding whether it would be necessary to make my grievances public.

After this, I wrote a detailed letter to the manager of the store in question, however they have not replied yet. They have had more than enough time to respond, and I believe that they have ignored me. I gave them the opportunity to avoid negative publicity, but they apparently don’t care, so I am more than happy to announce that the store in question was the Woolworths supermarket in Dickson.

My next step will be to write a letter to the head office of Woolworths and include a copy of my original letter. Before I do this though, I feel that it is only fair that I bring you up to speed on what happened as the email to John Kerr, which I posted on this blog at the time, was quite vague and did not include all the details of the incident from that night or the other incidents. For your perusal, a copy of the letter which I sent to the manager of Woolworths in Dickson follows.

My five-page letter of complaint to Woolworths Dickson
My five-page letter of complaint, with a two-page attachment: a printout from my internet banking service showing the disputed transaction. In the background, Nattie, who had decided that a footstool would be a comfortable place to sit for a while.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart
PO Box 1272
Dickson ACT 2602

February 6, 2012

The Store Manager
Woolworths Dickson
1 Dickson Place
Dickson ACT 2602

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing to you today to express my concern, disappointment and disgust at the behavior and attitude of some of the staff in your store in their recent dealings with me. I have had a few run-ins with your staff which, as isolated incidents, have annoyed me but not bothered me enough to care much about them, but the latest run-in offended me greatly and, when added to the previous incidents, is enough to make me want to avoid your store entirely.

I work about a five minute drive away from your store, and often work odd hours, so your store is a convenient place for me to pick up a few items and I usually do this at least two or three times per week. The incidents of late are enough to make me want to instead use the services of the IGA in Watson or, as they are not open as long as your store is, the Coles Express service station across the road from your store. The extra cost of doing so is worthwhile if it means that I will be treated with respect by the staff.

If I may crave your indulgence for a few minutes, I will endeavor to explain what has brought me to this decision, starting with the most recent incident which, to my mind, is the worst of the bunch.

On Saturday night (the 4th of February) I was at work and, upon finding out that the person on the shift which finishes a few hours after me had called in sick and that I would be required to stay back for an extra hour or two to cover for this person, I decided to use my half-hour meal break to visit your store and pick up some snacks to keep me going through the night. At about 11:10pm, I entered your store and proceeded to pick up a packet of Allens Strawberry and Cream lollies and a packet of mini easter eggs, which I then took to the self-serve checkout, but not before I was nearly bowled over by one of your staff moving stock around on a large trolley, who was not looking where he was going.

The first available checkout was the first one on the right as you walk in to the checkout area from the store and, as tends to be the case with these machines, it was neither accepting nor dispensing cash. I had hoped to get rid of a few coins with this purchase, but alas EFTPOS was the only option. This was a tad frustrating as it seems to be a bit of a waste to use EFTPOS for a $4.37 transaction, but so be it, I proceeded with the transaction. While I was using the checkout, I noted that the security guard was watching me with some interest. Once I was finished paying for my items (I have attached a printout from my internet banking transaction summary page which shows that this occurred at 11:14pm and was, as previously stated, a $4.37 transaction. The transaction is highlighted on page 2), I opted not to have a receipt printed as I would only have thrown it out as soon as I left the store anyway, picked up my items and walked towards the exit. Just after I had gone through the theft detection machine (which I should point out I did NOT set off), the security guard who had been watching me for some time stopped me and asked me if I had paid for the items.
“Yes” I replied.
“Show me the receipt” was his response. (He clearly was not versed in the ways in which the self-serve checkouts work, or he would know that they only print a receipt if asked to do so).
“I didn’t request one from the machine” I replied.
He then replied “If you don’t have a receipt, then I don’t believe that you paid for those items”. I did not say it at the time, but I was thinking that this was strange as I had seen him watching me use the self-serve checkout and wondered what he must have thought I was doing at the checkout for all that time. He then tried to ask the other staff in the area if they had seen me pay for the items, but they all ignored him. As he could not get confirmation from any of the staff, he told me that he did not believe that I had paid for the items, but I should leave with them anyway.

I was a tad confused by this, and offended that I was being called a thief and a liar. At first, I went to leave the store, and I did get out the door, but then the fact that I was deeply offended got the better of me and I walked back in and walked over to the security guard. I politely tried to gain his attention by saying “excuse me”, but he turned his back on me, so I tried again slightly louder and he started to walk away from me, so I tried again, a bit louder again, after which he turned and faced me. I informed him, calmly but in an annoyed tone of voice, that I was deeply offended by the way he had treated me; that I had seen him watch me pay for the items; and that as a matter of principle I was not going to leave with the items while he continued to accuse me of theft. I planted the items on the counter in front of him and informed him that the store could keep the items, and that I would be writing to the manager to complain about his conduct. I then walked out.

For the record, I have no problem with being challenged by security staff and accept the fact that you need to have measures in place to prevent people from walking off with items for which they have not paid, and I have previously consented to bag searches in stores when asked and have always been cooperative if I have set off a theft detector for whatever reason (usually it is a malfunction, although on one occasion it was due to a half-packet of AA size batteries which I had forgotten were in a bag that I was carrying). I have never, however, actually stolen an item from a store, nor have I ever been challenged by the security staff in your store for any reason, until Saturday night anyway.

In this case I believe that your security guard (who I note was wearing a Wilson Security uniform and is therefore probably not a direct employee of your store) overstepped his authority and was highly unprofessional in his conduct considering that there was no proof that I had stolen anything, and that the evidence in fact pointed the other way as I had not set off the theft detector when I walked through it, and the security guard had watched me using the self-serve checkout.

If more time had been available to me then I may very well have argued the point with him until he believed that I was not attempting to steal anything, and I probably would have done this by opening internet banking on my phone and showing him the transaction record, however as I was on a meal break from my job, I did not have the luxury of such time.

I believe that this needs your attention, not only because the security guard was incredibly rude, but because your staff paid no attention to his request for confirmation that I had paid for the items, and also because he was willing to let me walk off with items which he believed were stolen, which I am sure would horrify you as a store manager who is ultimately responsible for the bottom line of your store.

Unfortunately this is not the only incident which has caused me to decide that your store is an unfriendly place to shop. I don’t have dates for these other incidents as they were not big enough in my mind at the time to jot down the times at which they occurred, but I believe that they need to be brought to your attention anyway.

Firstly, your staff have been rude to me before on multiple occasions. On one occasion I was purchasing a cheese and bacon roll from the self-serve cupboard of your in-store bakery. As I picked out the roll, it occurred to me that I might need some assistance processing the roll at the self-serve checkout. I took a photo of the barcode on the shelf from which the roll had come, just in case the barcode would be useful. I then went to the self-serve checkout and asked the supervising staff member if she could show me how to buy the roll at the checkout, and I informed her that I had a photo of the barcode if it helped at all (Dendy Cinemas have previously scanned ticket barcodes off my phone, so I know that it is possible). Your staff member’s response to my question was a reasonably loud and angry tirade about how I should know how to do this myself and that I must be stupid if I thought that a barcode on a phone would be of any use. She then went on about how it was “obvious” that I should push a certain set of buttons on the screen (which she did quite quickly and without any attempt to check that I had some understanding or recollection of which buttons she had pressed) and then she wandered off mumbling under her breath.

It may very well be true that in the mind of a supermarket employee, the buttons which need to be pushed in order to make a checkout perform various functions are obvious, but it is a bit much to expect that a member of the general public would contain this knowledge, and it is definitely going a few steps too far to abuse a member of the public for not knowing these things.

On another occasion, one of the self-serve checkouts did not dispense change. It was only 20 cents, but I raised the point with the supervising staff member who informed me that as I could not prove that the machine had not dispensed change, she could not help me. It was clear that she thought that I had pocketed the 20 cents and wanted a further 20 cents to which I was not entitled. Yet again, on this occasion, I was on a meal break from work and was wearing a shirt bearing the logo of the company for which I work (a well-known company, I might add, but the details of which are irrelevant) so it seemed a bit odd that she would think that I, as a working person, would want to spend extra minutes in a store just to extort 20 cents from it.

Strangely enough, the staff in your store have never been rude to me away from the self-serve checkouts. They are rarely ever cheerful, but they do tend to at least be polite away from those machines.

On the subject of the self-serve checkouts, this is another problem which I have with your store. The upkeep of these machines is appalling. It is almost impossible to find a time when all of them are working properly. Most of the time at least one machine will be out of order, and the rest of them will be either only taking EFTPOS or only taking cash, and your staff do not take kindly to it if I want to wait to use a machine which is accepting my preferred method of payment, and they have very nearly started an argument with me over it on more than one occasion.

Then there is the fact that the things don’t seem to be cleaned very often. On more than one occasion, things have been spilled or smeared on the machines’ displays or the area which used to be the bagging area before the plastic bag ban was introduced. On more than one occasion I have had to wash my hands and/or the items which I have purchased after using these machines due to this problem. It is a matter of basic hygiene and public safety that these machines should be kept in a relatively clean state. You wouldn’t leave a spill on the floor of an aisle for longer than absolutely necessary, and your staff should be maintaining the same level of vigilance on the self-serve checkouts.

Unfortunately all of this, with the latest incident at the top of the list, has caused me to want to avoid your store at all costs, and the Woolworths brand as well. I do not enjoy being abused by your staff; I do not enjoy using unclean equipment; and most of all I do not appreciate being treated with contempt when I, as a customer of your store, am paying to keep the store running and the staff employed.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could, at the very least, investigate the first incident about which I have written and get back to me about it. You will find a copy of my bank records for this transaction attached to this letter, and I believe that you will have CCTV footage of the incident. To help you in locating me in the footage, on the night in question I was wearing an NYPD hoodie (it is official merchandise from the New York Police Department, so the letters NYPD are plastered across the front in giant yellow letters as per the NYPD logo which I am sure that you would have seen on television at one time or another, so it should be easy to spot). The rest of the incidents, while I would like you to be aware of them, do not need a response as I can not reasonably expect you to respond to incidents for which I do not have dates and times, although I would hope that you will talk to your staff about proper ways to deal with the public and about the importance of keeping the store clean.

Your actions in this regard will probably not bring me back to your store straight away, but may make me decide to revisit your store in the future if your response is good enough and if your staff smarten up their act considerably.

I should probably also note that, a few hours after the run-in with the security guard in your store, during some quiet time at work, I wrote an email about the incident to 2UE’s John Kerr who proceeded to read out my email on the air of 2UE in Sydney, 2CC here in Canberra, 4BC in Brisbane and a number of other radio stations around the country. I did not mention the exact location of the store in which this incident occurred (it would have been quite unfair of me to do so without contacting you about it first and giving you a chance to respond), however I did mention Woolworths and Canberra, so I would imagine that the Woolworths head office will have received a Media Monitors report about the email by now.

It would be safe to say that the security guard in your store put me in quite a bad mood, and it is not the first time that I have left your store thoroughly unsatisfied with the experience.

Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long letter. I hope that it helps you to improve your store, and I look forward to your reply with much anticipation.

Yours Sincerely,

Samuel Gordon-Stewart

Entry Filed under: Bizarreness,Canberra Stories,General News,Samuel News,Samuel's Editorials

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2 Comments

  • 1. damascus  |  February 18th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Your complaint seems legitimate, although personally I don’t think a five-page thesis to a supermarket manager is the appropriate channel for repressed writers – although doubtless you felt better for having written it. I am sure you would have received a reply, or, at least greatly increased your chances of one, if you had kept it to a page. “Rather long” indeed: the poor person who received yours probably didn’t know whether to read it, or give it to the vice chancellor of the University of Canberra.

  • 2. Samuel  |  February 19th, 2012 at 3:21 am

    You’re quite right damascus. Taking up five pages was more for my benefit than for the store manager’s benefit, and even without a reply, I hope that the shock of receiving a letter as long as that made them think a little bit.

    If the manager of Woolworths Dickson, or someone from the head office of Woolworths sends me a reply, then I will be grateful and send them a brief, less-than-one-page thank you note. Whether I shop at Woolworths Dickson in the future though will depend on the content of the reply.

    I think it would be accurate to say that brevity is not my strongest suit.


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