Sainsbury’s are trialling a strange new method of training for their staff to spot odd patterns of shopping. The scheme comes with government backing and is designed to determine if shoppers are carers who do not realise they are entitled to financial support from the state. Some critics have called it state-sponsored spying into people’s private lives.
Staff will be taught to look out for unusual shopping habits which indicate the purchasing of food for a dependent, such as using two baskets and paying for them separately. Customers picking up prescriptions for others will also be quizzed on their situation. If they reveal they are caring for someone they will be directed to a stand in the store by a carers’ charity. A pilot scheme in Torbay, Devon lasted for two months and led to 140 people asking for help.
This seems to be a rather peculiar way of letting people know about the support they are entitled to. Firstly because it will only affect the customers of Sainsbury’s rather than all the other large supermarkets. Secondly, people in general do not like the idea of being judged on their purchases. As everyone buys different things when shopping, it can be very hard to determine what constitutes ‘unusual’ purchases.
Daniel Hamilton, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:
“It strikes me as something that will make a lot of people uncomfortable. They are trying to do the right thing but they have to be careful about how they do it.”
Jacki Connor, Sainsbury’s ‘colleague engagement director’, said:
“Research shows that around 6.4million people in the UK care for sick or disabled love ones but many are not receiving the help and support they need.”
There may be a variety of reasons for customers to purchase items separately, or to pick up a prescription for someone else. If they are constantly directed to charity groups they may become offended. Even if staff are trained to try and be as tactful as possible, it is very likely that some customers will find the scheme intrusive.
Although few would argue that the reasoning behind this idea is anything but good intentions, it seems like there are more obvious ways to let carers know about how to get the support they need. Posters and leaflets would do the same job without putting people in embarrassing situations. Asking checkout staff to make decisions on the domestic situations of customers based on the contents of their trolley and some basic training seems ill-judged.