Friday, October 16, 2015


Andy Clarke, the rabidly rugger-mad chief executive of ASDA, lists ‘being a people person‘ amongst his top tips. It is this dealing directly with the shopper that catapulted the 17 year-old shelf stacker in Grantham to an “all together better” - is it really? - stewardship on the top rung of the Walmart retail ladder. However when a question was put to chief executive Andy on the racial profiling of his customers, there ASDA be silence. TheBigRetort

The new ASDA customer-friendly store in Deptford High Street is said to be one of the smallest London retail stores. However, part of the retail group's ‘southern strategy‘, I was impressed with its size and space which gives the shopper the impression of the freedom to roam the aisles. Unfortunately it was a freedom that was not reserved for all its customers.

As I made my way through the exit the guard stopped me, abruptly, and demanded - quite loudly - to look inside my Morrison's bag for life. Why?

He declared that I had not paid at the till for the items inside.

Which was technically true; I hadn't.

He also claimed ‘by law‘ - which law he didn’t seem to know - that he had the right to search my Morrison's bag for life, without any reason given, and to stop me leaving, until I allowed him to do so.

A misleading set of rights if ever I felt sure... The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 gives the police statutory powers to search a person without making an arrest. But had the right now been extended to ASDA?

My own rights to one side, the ASDA guard informed me that he would physically detain me if I tried to exit the store. I tried to remonstrate... Asking him why he felt the need to look into my bag... But all to no avail. He would neither summon the manager, call the police, or conduct his search in a more private place. 

As I was by now experiencing a feeling that I can only describe as quite rage, I decided to let him have it.

The Morrison's bag for life that is.

However, there was a more compelling reason for acquiescing to his questionable demand: the more I refused the more ‘suspicious‘ I became in the eyes of 'the others'. And many eyes were upon me.

And so it was, following an open invitation by Andy Clarke to look around his new store, his 'southern strategy', that the inquisitive fingers of his security guard rifled over the pages of my free Evening Standard on a quest to find the reason behind the true decline of ASDA’s retail losses.

‘Simpleton’ was written on this guy's name badge and he nosed further into the bag like a ferret. Suddenly he found something fishy... tuna from the fishmonger on the high street, right? Casting this aside he now homed in on a brown sliced loaf. Caught bang to rights!

However, this one was crusty and very tasty, he instinctively knew it was not purchased at ASDA. (Percy Ingle’s High Class Bakers, 31-33 Deptford High Street. Established 1954. Yummy.)

His face crumbled… His accusatory eyes settled on mine. The gist went something like this.

‘Where did you buy… this?‘ He held up a large bottle of sparkling water.

Apparently not only had he been trained by ASDA, or some obscure security firm 'sarf' of the Thames, but he had the right to know.

‘Know‘… know what?


The neurons in his brain seemed to leak out of the pores of his skin as if saying surely there must be something - anything - damning.

He explored further.

'Where did you get this?’ He moved the bottle of water away as if I was going to gulp the evidence down.
‘Where’s your receipt?'
'I don’t have one.'
'Then you can’t leave.’
'No receipt, you can't leave.'

‘Can you prove it’s from your store?’ I countered weakly.
He paused. ‘I don’t have to,’ he said triumphantly.

‘Look,’ I sighed, ‘do you even sell that water?’
‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. But without irony.


'Did I say you was stealing? I'm just giving you the opportunity to pay at the till.'  ASDA speak. It was pure Python

 ‘It could be ours,’ he countered before I drew breath. There was no end to the one liners.‘Where is your receipt?’
‘What for - water that you don’t stock?‘
‘I don’t know that - do I?’ he said dryly.
‘Did you see me put it in my bag?’
‘I don’t have to. I must see your receipt.’
'It's not from your store.'

As far as customer service was concerned, this was uniquely ASDA.

Fortunately, suddenly, just before an index finger was pushed up my backside, another member of staff joined the scrum. A look of outright uncertainty on his face. ‘We don’t sell that water,’ he said somewhat sheepishly.

In fact ASDA didn’t sell any of the items in my bag... Which is why I had not used the till.

'Well..?' I waited.
‘Okay, you can leave,’ the ASDA security guard said.

In my conversion at the telephone with ASDA headquarters I enquired if the Deptford store was - in a largely ethnically mixed area? - being targeted by dark skinned shoplifters and that this was the reason why it was seemingly specifically profiling ethnic customers: based on nothing more than "race".

The call was quickly passed via Andy Clarke's executive staff back to the Deptford branch. Manager Kerry” gamely assured me that this was 'not the case'. But conceded that members of staff would have to be 'retrained'. She also offered 'a goodwill voucher'. 

Be that as it may or may not be.  Although I didn't realise it at the time I had become the oval ball in a game of retail rugby. A curve ball meant for ASDA's chief executive had been intercepted, and passed back to its local store manager as a customer complaint.  The manager then grounded the oval ball, then placed it between the posts, or kicked it over the crossbar, into the long grass - following which the opposing team, call them the All Blacks, had been presented with a free 'good will' voucher. I didn't know how much the goodwill voucher was for but I hadn't made plans to visit Jamaica. 

That evening an ASDA home delivery van stopped and blocked my driveway. I opened the door, waiting for my letter of apology, and possibly too a case of wine from my new bezzy mate Andy. But the driver commenced delivering the shopping to the neighbour across the road. He did not apologise for blocking the driveway. ASDA it seems never does.

Demand respect or expect defeat. Rugby talk and profiles of the CEO of ASDA go hand in hand. I decided to tackle Andy on his own ground. I fired off an email. Besides seeking a written apology I suspected that the guard was part of a recruitment process to specifically use ethnic thugs to target “effnik” shoppers; thereby nixing any cries of racial prejudice if ASDA then got it wrong. There is a feeling amongst some Londoners that this is a strategy followed by the Met police in a drive to counter any claims of racial prejudice... but ASDA? In Deptford? 'You're having a laugh.

So, the question I put directly to Andy Clarke from Grantham as he sat in his ivory tower: ‘Is ASDA (Deptford) profiling its customers based on the colour of their skin?’

TheBigRetort. Coming soon... All the President's Men (and women); respond.

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