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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Are you being served?

Half of UK shoppers have walked out of high street stores because of terrible service, according to a report.

The warning to retailers is that queues and shoddy service are driving customers away.

Has appalling service in a shop ever made you so angry you stormed out? Do retail assistants in your country make shopping a pleasure or a chore?

Maybe you prefer the hassle free internet shopping experience. Here are your experiences from the high street:

If you want better personal service then use your local shops

Gerry, Scotland
You get what you deserve in life; if you want out-of-town shopping with large megastores with hundreds of faceless staff, then don't complain if you get poor service. However, if you want better personal service then use your local shops. Of course that will require you to get out of your car and walk, a task clearly beyond many in this country.
Gerry, Scotland

I am a history student who works in retail during my holidays. The earlier comment about "GCSE failing" employees is typical of some customers who tend to think if you work in a shop you must be stupid. If he treats shop assistants like that I am not surprised he gets bad service!
Clare Baxendal, England

I always find it necessary to travel back home to Yorkshire to receive my quarterly dose of good manners in a shop. Here in Germany salespeople are appalling. This is probably due to the fact that shopworkers are often foreign nationals forced to do the job since higher paid ones are closed to them. Give me good old expensive Britain anytime
Mark, Germany (British)

I always find that staff who have a smile on their faces make a huge difference. I then find I don't mind waiting so much.
Tracy, England

I am 17 and work in a bakery at weekends. I think that it's vital to be friendly with customers. I know some shops where the service is very bad and I feel that they don't deserve to have regular customers.
Delphine Bohy, Belgium

My staff used to bend over backwards to help people

Greg Bengtson, UK
Having worked in the retail industry for 10 years, 8 as store manager in one of the "big named" record stores, I can honestly say the only time I came across an example of "bad service" was when one of my staff was defending themselves. For £8000 p.a. and at least a 45-hour week why should a person be treated as low life as at least 40% of customers think you are? My staff used to bend over backwards to help people, but with my unofficial encouragement would give as good as they got against a rude customer. Having faced vicious verbal or physical abuse at least once a week myself, I now treat so-called rude service with sympathy, as I know the pressures shop staff face.
Greg Bengtson, UK

I am 16 and I do find that shop staff treat us teenagers differently to adults, often ignoring us and serving older customers first. I find this age discrimination appalling and unfair. Clothes shops are the main culprit. When my friend and I tried to purchase a shirt and pair of sunglasses, we had to wait 15 minutes for the woman at the counter to stop talking to her boyfriend on the phone and after she had served a middle-aged gentleman queuing behind us when she knew we were first. I'd really like to see some changes in the way this country's shop staff treat their customers.
Mathew, Wales

I quite agree that respect is important in both customer and shop assistant. I get annoyed at poor bar service but what annoys me even more is when other people deliberately push in front to get served first - the over-worked staff can't be expected to keep tabs on everyone in a busy pub!
Andrew Hewlett, UK

Kevin says that one can ensure pleasant staff by being pleasant to them. That attitude is exactly what is wrong. It is up to staff to be pleasant to customers and the customers will respond pleasantly, NOT the other way around!
Mike, Malaysia

I once lived in Melbourne where the local postmaster was the most miserable, surly person I had ever come across. I determined to make him smile. It took me a year of exaggerated charm, but in the end I succeeded. Unfortunately he became so welcoming and chatty I could no longer afford the time it took to use his post office and had to go elsewhere!
Sara Leighton, Argentina

Having made an 80 mile round trip to do a big shop, our family trolleys had about £200 of food and about £150 of school clothes. After a 20 minute wait in a huge queue at the checkouts, I got hold of a supervisor and said I hoped she had a "nice day" putting everything back on the shelves because we were off!!
Alasdair Cameron, Scotland

Complain, complain, complain, and then just maybe they will get the message

A. Caversham, England
Having spent some time overseas (in Japan) I can only comment that customer service standards here are appalling. I'm not sure that storming out does any good as the store next door is likely to be even worse. What amazes me is that customers seem to accept this state of affairs. Complain, complain, complain, and then just maybe they will get the message.
A. Caversham, England

Very rarely have I found that treating shop assistants with friendliness and respect has resulted in poor service.
Clive Mitchell, UK

Try visiting Singapore where locals are treated as 2nd class citizens in our very own country. Try walking into a shop - chances are the salespeople will be more eager to serve the caucasians first.
Janine, Singapore

I've found that the poorer the country the better service you get. In America I feel like a cog.
Bracket Sulfetlikkeri, Alaska, USA

Try Italy. Most shop assistants here treat you as if they are doing you an enormous favour by taking your money, and checkout staff never say hello, thank-you or goodbye (forget packing!). Not to mention the half-hour queues at peak periods, when they have, on average, 5 checkouts out of 20 open. To me, it's a pleasure going back to shop in England, and realising that I am no longer invisible or a nuisance.
Jane, Italy

I spent several weeks in the UK recently and I had a chance to compare service at different places around the country. First, I think that service is, on average, as good in the UK as it is in the US. It does vary, though: Glasgow was best, London somewhere in the middle, and small-town Wales was the worst.

Staff picking up your food with bare hands after having had a good old cough into them

Alex C, UK
In the UK the worst areas of customer service are:
Bakeries/sandwich bars - staff picking up your food with bare hands after having had a good old cough into them or after handling dirty coins.
Big name record stores - being on the very periphery of the music biz many assistants tend to be a tad arrogant and self-important.
Pubs - service is typically churlish and offhand with grumpy barmaids who never make eye contact.
Alex C, UK

If you think its bad service in the UK, try the old Eastern block. You really do upset a shop assistant's day by going into the shop and bothering her/him
Paul Markham, Brno CZ

I've never stormed out of a shop but if I go into a shop to make a purchase and the queues for the till are too long I take my business elsewhere. We live in a Consumerist society and it's up to the consumer to make the choices they believe. There is no excuse for poor service.
Simon Atkinson, Wales

I find the ingratiating smugness of US shop staff repellent

Andrew, UK
There are shops with miserable, underpaid and under-trained staff. However, it's fairly easy to spot these. I enjoy shopping most places I go to. Top of the heap are Australia, UK, France, Norway, India, and Italy. At the bottom I would put Holland and the US. I find the ingratiating smugness of US shop staff repellent, and the Dutch equivalents are just incompetent. Now, how's that for sweeping generalisations?
Andrew, UK

One of the reasons I left the UK many years ago was that I realised that my fortune was not going to be in a country where a restaurant had a "Closed for Lunch" sign on the window. At the time, it just about said it all.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Having worked on both sides of the counter myself, I found that the only way to ensure cheerful, pleasant shop staff is to give to them what you hope to receive back. It's simple good manners.
Kevin, UK

If I am not served in the supermarket within two minutes I walk out

Ralph, UK
Power to the shopper.
If I am not served in the supermarket within two minutes I walk out. If I ask a shop assistant about a product and are not happy with the incompetent answer I walk out of the shop. If I am upset with the service of my bank, I'll switch.
The power lies solely with the consumer as if enough people walk out of shops and their sales are falling, you will see how quickly they will change their tactics. The problem is that many people are so used to the slow bad service that they don't know any different.
Ralph, UK

Portugal has to be the worst country for customer service I have ever been to. Shop assistants will stand talking to friends while a queue forms.... and amazingly the Portuguese don't seem to mind. Barbers will leave you sitting in the chair while they talk on the phone and hoteliers (admittedly lower end...I was backpacking) seem annoyed to show you their rooms.
Yes service in Britain leaves a lot to be desired compared with the States or even Islamic countries (where it goes to the other extreme) but it could be a whole lot worse.
Chris, UK

I have found most customers to be the most arrogant and rude people on earth

Peter Snowdon, UK
I think the main problem here is lack of respect on both parties' behalf. Being a student, having worked in a prestigious department store in Birmingham, I have found most customers to be the most arrogant and rude people on earth, which in turn de-motivated me to return niceties to preceding customers.
I think many people should end their belief that shop assistants were born to serve them. Respect should both be given and received by both parties - nobody, whether it be the customer of the employee should have to stand for rude, unpleasant and demoralising treatment.
Peter Snowdon, UK

I went to a small-town bank in the US and was amazed. The tellers treated me like a person, had no bullet-proof screens and even gave me Dum-Dum lollies to suck on while I waited. Cashing a travellers cheque was quick and painless, and these people didn't know me from Adam! Why can't my bank in the UK, who sees me at least once a week, treat me like a person instead of a numbered criminal?
Dave Tankard, England

The real patronising attitude, and sheer unhelpfulness has always appeared to me in Customer Services. Having had a fridge/freezer out of action for 4 weeks(being under guarantee), I was asked 'Well, what do you want me to do?'
When I told them I wanted a working freezer, I was from then on treated as a difficult customer. Was that such an unreasonable request?
Diane, UK

Bad service will only disappear when both the store advisor and the customer learn to respect each other!

Dan, UK
As a former retail manager I would say that to some extent it is the store's problem but the customer also plays a major part. You are much more likely to get the result you want if you are polite to the sales advisor/ manager than if you rant and rave at them. The retailer I worked for had hit bad times recently and are retraining their staff in good customer service but bad service will only disappear when both the store (advisor) and the customer learn to respect each other!
Dan, UK

A close friend of mine works as a sales assistant in a clothing shop and she says her colleagues all agree that American customers are the worst. They are all impolite and expect to be waited on hand and foot. Perhaps better wages in the UK would solve the problem, but let shop assistants have their say too!
Ros, UK

I work at a retail store in the United States and I can tell you first hand how retail stores around my area are not paying enough. I get $7.00 an hour and I am doing the workload of 5 people. We are overworked and underpaid for the amount of work that we do. And then you wonder why the employees are rude to the customers. Retail workers need more respect from our bosses and better pay.
Maria, USA

When I was working in a bookstore, I had a customer hit me when I told him that his book was out of print! I agree completely that customers are being treated badly, but some customers are starting to deserve it.
Tracey Houston, Canada

Perhaps many of the people in these shops studied customer relations under Basil Fawlty??
J. Vinsel, USA

If you think shop assistants in the UK offer poor service, you should visit Bermuda. Shop assistants here are far ruder and they couldn't care less whether they make a sale or not and, unlike their British counter-parts, they are grossly over paid. So I say visit Bermuda. I guarantee you'll go back appreciating British service instead of criticising it.
M. Enqvist, Bermuda

As an experienced shopper I can walk into an establishment and usually tell within 5 minutes ... if the company employs a shopping service

Now that would be telling!, USA
Here in the US, an increasing number of companies now employ the services of 'mystery shoppers'. As independent contractors we enter the store under the guise of the normal customer. We may rate everything from cleanliness and maintenance of the facility to customer service and cash handling technique. Working full-time I've shopped everything from retail, dining, housing, banking, travel, governmental offices and yes, now, even live web chat customer assistance of e-tailors. As an experienced shopper I can walk into an establishment and usually tell within 5 minutes based on services received if the company employs a shopping service. The improvements are that noticeable. But do I love to sit around, half dressed with credit card in hand, shopping the infinite selection available on the Internet? You bet!
Now that would be telling!, USA

I don't encounter much rudeness in shops, however I get so annoyed and extremely uncomfortable with shop assistants that pounce on you as soon as you walk in. I barely have a chance to look at all when I am asked, "Can I help you?" and when I say "No" they continually watch me. I don't want the shop assistants eyeing me up, making up their mind whether something I am glancing at will look any good on me, or if it will even fit me! I walk straight out of the shop when the assistants are like this.
Andrea, Australia

I'm an English ex-pat living in Germany. Anyone complaining about the service in English shops should experience the "service" here. Compared to the service one receives in German shops, customers in England are treated like kings.
Mike Williamson, Germany

I take issue with Suzy's comments. I work in a call centre full-time and I find it a vibrant and fulfilling place of work. I get paid a reasonable wage and my employers are always helpful and understanding. I do get my bad days but I do not know of a job where employers are 100% happy all the time.
Louise, UK

While high street shopping is no pleasure in the UK, at least you are certain to get what you see. My experiences of shopping on the Internet have been a nightmare. Hassle free? I don't think so. The pictures of the goods all look very pretty but when it comes to delivery of the of the order, forget it. I much prefer using the high street, indifferent staff or not.
Aksan Shaffi, UK

I moved to the Netherlands last year and I think that the service in most shops in the UK is far superior. Here, I am frequently kept waiting by shop assistants who chat away on the phone or to other customers and staff. They do not speed up, or even seem to have any awareness that there is a queue of over ten people waiting. In supermarkets you are lucky if there are more than two checkouts open!! It really drives you crazy but Mr Fernandez does have a point about the prices!!!
Jane Atkin, Netherlands

I have lived in the USA for 2 years now and I have to say that I don't notice any difference in the level of service I get in stores compared with the UK. I find service is only generally better where people are working for a tip in the USA. I have never been greeted with a smile in my local supermarket; in fact I'm lucky if the assistant speaks proper English. With low unemployment levels here unmotivated people with poor enthusiasm normally fill these jobs, hence service does suffer.
Rob, USA

I've seen far too much of both sides of the coin - poor service and abusive customers - and am convinced the UK is stuck in a vicious circle

Julian Hayward, UK
I've seen far too much of both sides of the coin - poor service and abusive customers - and am convinced the UK is stuck in a vicious circle. Why would ordinary workers care about helping one customer if the previous one bawled them out for something outside their power? The problem is, those who have the ability to solve the real problems (under-investment, faulty computer systems, thoughtless design or whatever) are tucked away where no-one can see them, content that someone else is on the front line taking the flak. And the bigger the business the more true this is.
Julian Hayward, UK

I've just come back from 2 weeks in Canada and I was truly amazed at the friendly and helpful nature of the people in banks, drugstores restaurants...everywhere. In every shop we had service with a smile - polite, helpful and genuinely interested in us as customers. Britain has a lot to learn about service.
Rob, Wales

As a Brit in New York I was horrified to receive the worst service I have ever had from the manager of a famous British raincoat store on Long Island. Companies should realise that the people they employ are ambassadors for their brands and rude incompetent staff will do irreparable damage to their image and brand name.
Chris Shaw, USA

Having served customers and being a customer myself I have to say that often it is not the shop at fault but the customer. Many customers can turn a simple procedure into an episode. I personally prefer the online shopping experience. No queues - just click and buy. Internet and TV shopping are the future.
Russell Tarbox, UK

Though we certainly have our faults, in America working in a shop or a restaurant is not considered demeaning. We don't have much of a sense of social class, so the people in those positions have a higher level of self-esteem than they might in other countries. They also get paid reasonably well too.
Krow, USA

I feel a glow inside knowing that these insidious people's livelihoods are soon to be replaced by a www address and a white van

Peter Wilde, England
There is a culture of poor service in almost every retail sector in this country, we are well behind the rest of the developed world. The answer (especially in London) is the internet. Each time I receive poor service in a supermarket, wait to be 'served' by a surly bank employee or am looked down upon by a GCSE-failing mobile phone shop employee. I feel a glow inside knowing that these insidious people's livelihoods are soon to be replaced by a www address and a white van. The retail outlets that survive will survive as they have excellent customer service. Vive le Revolution
Peter Wilde, England

It's all down to training. Nothing angers me more than poor service and I hate the excuse that it's all about low pay. Yes, service providers may get poorly paid, but that is no excuse for terrible service in restaurants, shops and (especially) in train and underground stations. Most of the US has famously wonderful service (though even there, New York has some of the rudest staff I have ever come across!) Britain and the rest of Europe must get in line. How many of us have had a nice meal ruined by bad and surly service?
Paul, UK

I cannot say much on the British perspective on shopping, but I do know that here in the States, that customers in the area where I live feel free to interrupt you whilst you are serving someone else for 'a question,' then expect you to walk away from the other customer and help them with whatever they want.
Randolph H. Murdock III, USA

If you complain civilly and correctly, most businesses are grateful for you bringing the matter to their attention

Elaine, UK
I handled complaints on a large holiday centre for 3 years and have been screamed at, shouted at, called all sorts of names, been sworn at and even pushed and shoved about. Only once did I walk away from an abusive customer. If you complain civilly and correctly, most businesses are grateful for you bringing the matter to their attention. My worst experience of rude assistants is when I take my elderly disabled mother shopping and many assistants refuse to speak to her, even though she is the customer. I then make a fuss (politely and graphically) to the highest person I can find on duty. If we do not complain, nothing will improve!
Elaine, UK

Being ignored, treated as though 'the customer is never right', made to feel you are interrupting the break, expected to buy rotting fruit and veg. Now if you want really shoddy service, it begins at Calais.....!
Ken Beach, Germany

I feel sorry for the shop assistants who are obviously underpaid and under trained. They have to take the abuse from all sorts of customers for all sorts of reasons (some even threatening violence) while their manager hides away in an office.
Craig B, UK

I work in a bank and the attitude of the manager to a queue is "so what"? What the bosses really want is sales i.e. selling credit cards, loans, etc. Service is only important when their bonus relies on their score being above a certain average.
Andrew G, UK

Yet again, I have just returned from a trip to America to be amazed by just how bad service is in the UK. From shops, to restaurants, to garages and services stations, this country is a complete disgrace when it comes to service. Perhaps if we had the same tipping culture as the States, people would make more of an effort.
Phil Saum, UK

I'm a shopkeeper myself, and I like to think that I provide commercial solutions. Whenever a customer enters my fishing tackle store, I want to make them feel as if they are entering my home (though of course my home is far smaller!) and that they are a welcome guest. In fact, I have made most of my friends through my little shop, and they're my best customers. I don't think England will ever stop being a nation of essentially friendly shopkeepers.
Steve Dooley, UK

Having worked in a call centre myself, I can confirm that they are soul-destroying places to work

Susy Fowler, UK
I have walked out of shops several times and hung up on 'customer service' personnel on the phone due to poor service, which is not just dished out by young school leavers, but older people too. Frequently I have been infuriated by the 'couldn't care less' attitude of shop staff. The blame lies with the employers who pay peanuts, and offer little or no training. Many of these people are on the minimum wage and do not really want to be there. Having worked in a call centre myself, I can confirm that they are soul-destroying places to work. I left after only 3 months and found a decent job where my employers treated me with respect.
Susy Fowler, UK

I recall going to a certain supermarket for no more than 5 or 6 items. After waiting for 10 minutes to pay for my huge purchase I put the basket down in the middle of the aisle and walked out. The smaller local shop made the sale, and it took less time to choose my items, pay and leave than if I had stood in line in the supermarket.
John B, UK

I have just settled in a small village with only a chemist and a newsagent who do not even say hello when I enter the shop! The retailers in the nearest village are so nice and caring to customers that I prefer to drive a few miles to have proper service rather than give my money to people who do not deserve it.
Véronique Hébrard, France

I have no problems here in Australia, the assistants are helpful, friendly and competent. In the UK I found myself on the receiving end of British muddling-through. Whether it be ill-trained staff battling with on-line systems, such as the car rental services or general indifference, as in most high streets and superstores. Paying what must be the highest retail prices in the world, you would think the British would receive world class service.
Tom, Australia

If I were British I would be walking out of shops because the prices are just ridiculous

Jose Fernandez, Netherlands
I have been to London recently and must say that I was quite pleased with the service in shops and restaurants. If I were British I would be walking out of shops because the prices are just ridiculous.
Jose Fernandez, Netherlands

I won't go into a shop where I can see a queue.
Ailsa McKnight, UK

There is a supermarket near my office in Chelsea which has become a standing joke amongst my colleagues. The standard line is not "I'm going to the supermarket", but "I'm going to lose my temper". We all prefer to pay more and go to the newsagents where the choice is limited but the staff are friendly and polite.
Dave Jones, UK

If retailers paid their staff a reasonable wage for their services then customers would reap the benefits. Pay peanuts and we all know what you get...
Ian Bailey, England

Yes, and it's not just in shops. Bars and restaurants are just as bad. I have left a restaurant on more than one occasion after waiting an hour between courses, but my biggest dislike in the area is bar staff in pubs who make no effort to serve customers even roughly in the order at which they came to the bar.
Keith Lomax, UK

It is not only shops, it is hotels, car hire places and lord knows where else. I have not lived in the UK for 26 years. Everytime I come back you wonder how people keep their jobs! They seem to get away with an attitude of doing the customer a favour, try that in North America and you will be out the door. The UK and many parts of Europe have to learn that a customer is not an interruption to their job, the customer is the be all and end all of the job.
John Murray, Canada

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