Queue & Trolley Rage: The UK Supermarket Battlefield

In a recent incident at Tesco’s, a customer – impatient at having to wait  in the checkout line –  shouted at the female cashier, punched a fire alarm and stormed out of the store. The supermarket had to be evacuated until the fire brigade arrived. This was not, however, an isolated case. Apparently, 65% of shoppers have witnessed or been involved in similar situations. According to VISA UK research, the British spend around 273 days of their lives  waiting in queues. That’s an average of 18 minutes per day, though in Wales it’s 24, in the North-East 22.5 and in South-East England a mere 14. Wherever they are, most if them begin to get irritated after just 8.6 minutes (or only 7 minutes if they are over 55), though this goes down to 4 minutes if they have to buy a train ticket. They become annoyed after 15 minutes, angry after 21 and 3.2 minutes later either make an official complaint or rush off in a fury ( or both). Most of them (91%), therefore, are particularly upset if anyone tries to push in front; 65% dislike pressure from the people behind them and 63% are hostile to ‘misbehaving children’.

 Other UK ‘queue etiquette crimes’ are: Not being ready to pay (60% hostility rating), leaving the supermarket conveyer belt to get additional shopping from the shelves (58%), having too many items in a ‘!0 or less aisle (52%: some staff now dispatch offenders to the back of the ‘correct queue’), chatting too much to the cashier (50%) and talking on a mobile (49%). Clashes between supermarket shoppers  also frequently occur even before they’ve collected whatever they wish to purchase. In Ipswich, a fight broke out between two women after one had bumped the other with her trolley. In some confrontations, the two sides will refuse to give way or will place their trolleys at an angle so the other can’t get past. A blogger on the ‘Shropshire Star’ newspaper website was critical of people who “abandon their trolley in the middle of an aisle while they go off and look for something”. On one occasion (in Sainsbury’s) he was abused for moving someone’s trolley to one side. A few minutes later, he came across it again in the middle of another lane, so pushed it to the other end of the store: “It was great fun watching her trying to find it”.

 Trolleys can also be even more of a problem once they have been taken outside the supermarket. British Waterways have reported that it costs the taxpayer £150,000 pa to retrieve the 3,000 of them dumped each year in the UK’s canals and rivers. Tesco’s have on several occasions been fined (for example: £30,000 by Chelmsford Crown Court) for allowing their trolleys to be abandoned.. Peterborough City Council charges £57.50p for each uncollected trolley, rising to £120 after six weeks and £140 if they have to dispose of it themselves. Salisbury District Council reached an agreement with their local Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Iceland whereby they’d all introduce a coin-operated mechanism (normal in most of continental Europe). Tescos, however, have informed ‘Expressnews’ that they deploy such arrangements in ” Just a small percentage of our overall fleet as customers tell us they do not like them. We use other methods to deter them being taken such as wheel locks and magnetic strips and a wide reporting & collection process.”  Netto, Aldi, Morrisons, and Somerfield all operate a £1 coin slot policy, Sainsbury’s at some of its 785 UK outlets and Waitrose at virtually none at all. Asda say that, as trolleys cost in excess of £100 each, they try very hard not to lose any. Their measures include ‘daily trolley patrols’ and a ‘cartronics system’: A radio signal is sent to a receiver in the trolley telling it (if it passes through an invisible boundary around the supermarket) to “lower a brake onto the wheels and bring it to a controlled stop”.     

 Meanwhile,Tescos – possibly to deflect any suggestions that they are unconcerned about environmental or health issues – have been experimenting with a (German-designed) ‘Trim Trolley’ which can be set at ‘different levels of resistence’ (making it easier or harder to push), monitor a customer’s heart rate & number of calories burnt and so transform a visit to the supermarket into a ’40-minute work-out’. Microsoft are co-developing a trolley fitted with a 12 inch colour screen showing advertisements,

advising you what to buy, where to find it and how much you’ve spent so far. The total bill will be automatically calculated as you leave the store. You won’t even have to join a queue.



Filed under: Society | Posted on March 5th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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