Tuesday, 14 April 2020

An Open Letter on Coronavirus from a Supermarket Worker

Dear General Public,

I'm a Supermarket Assistant who has gone from being 'unskilled' and at the bottom of the career ladder, to being a front-line keyworker who is risking my life - and the lives of my relatives - every day so that you continue to be fed.

Some customers are grateful for the work we do. Doctors call us heroes (and we call them heroes, too.) Children bring us drawings. People come up to us as we load the shelves with more pasta and tinned tomatoes thanking us for our commitment, and others offer to knit us ear covers to keep us comfortable whilst wearing our masks.

Others crowd around us as we reduce the day's bargains, or lean around the plastic screens on the checkouts because they feel like it. Some customers make a big show of respecting other customers and keeping a distance from them, seconds before brushing against us on their way to get a sandwich. We're shouted at for trying to police the two-metre social distancing measures, which are in place to protect everyone including you. We endure violence and verbal abuse because we've run out of flour. We're laughed at for wearing gloves and masks, or for moving away from our work when you decide to come and stand right next to us, even though these are all things we've been instructed to do to protect ourselves and you. No, Sir, it's not 'funny to see how people react' to you and your wife invading my space to look at organic mushrooms, with you on one side of me and your wife on the other so I have nowhere to go. I'm not 'getting paid to do nothing' as I ask you to step back so I can stand two metres away, I'm patiently waiting for you to finish browsing so I can return to my work safely.

And yet we continue to:

  • Direct you to the items you need with a smile.
  • Train on multiple sections in order to efficiently continue to provide the services you're used to.
  • Go through the lengthy recruitment process to make sure we have new members of staff, so that there continues to be people to serve you and make sure there's food on the shelves while our more vulnerable workers take sick leave.
  • Exhaust ourselves with overtime to try and give you the best availablity of items and customer service.
  • Put essential items aside for elderly delivery customers we've come to know personally, and who have come to know us.
  • Spend hours completing rotas to make sure that our sick and vulnerable workers are accounted for, and to ensure that they are sufficiently covered by the remaining members of staff.
  • If you don't see us during the day, we're probably working through the night instead, recovering the shelves after a day of trade and picking thousands of items for your food deliveries.
  • Complete stock-counts to maintain stock levels so you can buy what you need.
  • Work as a team to ensure our delivery drivers get to you on time.
  • Take emotional phone calls from the vulnerable and elderly who are running out of food and need our support.
  • Support the local community with monetary donations, care packages and volunteering.
  • Maintain our closed-off section of items put aside especially for NHS workers.
  • Clean every single trolley handle and every single shopping basket - and we have hundreds.
  • Donate food to charity that we can no longer legally sell, and spend time maintaining this area and liasing with the charities.
  • Complete a cleaning schedule to make sure the whole shop is clean for you.
  • Date-check items so you don't get ill from buying out-of-date goods.
  • Drive 100+ miles per day to deliver your shopping.
  • Support any colleagues who are struggling with the situation or may have been furloughed.
  • Scan in hundreds of Click and Collect parcels.
  • Clean our hands between serving each and every customer so we don't pass germs between you all.

And even in the toughest of times, we continue to smile, work hard, and stay committed, because without us food availability would plummet even more and the country would be stuck.

Food shopping is not a substitute for a day out. You do not need to bring your other half or your entire family (single parents of young and/or disabled children excepted). We're putting ourselves at risk so you can carry out your ESSENTIAL food shopping, not treat our place of work like a leisure park. So please be kind, keep your distance, and stay home where possible. Behind the namebadge is a person with worries, hidden health conditions, and loved ones we are trying to protect - while also protecting you.


A Supermarket Assistant


I do not consent to the publishing of this letter elsewhere without prior permission.


  1. Thanks for writing this and for all your hard work. Stay safe and well.

  2. Thank you for sharing this and thank you for all that you do, and continue to do . You are amazing x

  3. You've taken my own similar thoughts and presented them perfectly. Thank you so much. I hope a lot of people pay attention to this x

  4. well said. My heart goes out to you. I’ve not been to a supermarket in 5 weeks but my husband goes once a week for people in the village, my parents and a few bits for us. Drives him barmy when people are flauting the rules. Stay safe.

  5. Hi Amber. You are doing a great job. It is sad that you have to put up with this abuse. Keep up the good work

  6. Bravo Amber.
    remember being behind a lady and her little granddaughter in a queue at a supermarket till. The little girl said to Daisy on the till (I remember Daisy well) "I want to work on a till when I grow up." "Oh no, you can do much better," granny said.

    As I made my purchases I said to Daisy "How dare they. You don't just work on a till. Without you we wouldn't get food or other essential stuff. Thank you for being here." That was about two years ago.

    I wonder if (and hope) granny has changed her perspective.

    Thank you for your service Amber (and Daisy).


    1. Bravo. People need to remember that there are all kinds of people working in shops. I'm a qualified English teacher with a Masters in English yet I CHOOSE to work in my local Co-op.

  7. I am a supermarket worker and you have summed it up brilliantly. Stay safe everybody.

  8. Well said, Amber! It's about time that supermarket workers were given the same respect and consideration as NHS staff. You, too, should be appreciated - and even compensated - for putting your lives at risk to provide customers with what they need - although in many cases it's what they want, expect and rudely demand. Hope you stay safe and well and, like the NHS doctors and nurses, survive the horrors with your dedication, good humour and kindness intact.

  9. I couldn't have put it better myself. When my wife and I I redeployed for just 3 days in 2 different branches of Waitrose the stress and anxiety caused by just a few guests was enough to drive us to furlough. It was as if employees become totally invisible the moment they enter a shop and that their selfishness is not to be questioned. Odd behavoir given that we are all in the same boat!!

  10. You are amazing and I truly thank you for all that you are doing xxx

  11. You and your colleagues are doing a great job - thanks to you all.
    If you suffer verbal or physical abuse ban them from shopping in the store.
    To all the idiots not following social distancing- wake up and respect others.

  12. Every word of this article is 100% accurate and very well constructed. I cannot believe the arrogance and rudeness of a small number of customers, especially at this most difficult time. I am truly grateful to the medical teams working in the NHS and for those involved in patient care in care homes. However, customer facing supermarket workers should also be included in COVID19 testing - without staff, supermarkets would not be able to operate.

  13. So true. No more comment required. From a front line colleague.

  14. I applaud you - as I do every Thursday at 8pm - for helping to keep Britain going though the crisis.
    I'm an online driver, so I too deal with 'those customers' who have no respect for me, my space, or my wellbeing. Unfortunately 'these customers' are the ones who rely on me (us) the most. Some of their behaviour is shocking and shameful.
    Bravo to you for writing - keep on being the hero you are :) (y)

  15. Thank you for this post. I work in a supermarket. I totally agree with what you are saying. I have had to change my hours because I am struggling with anxiety due to customers being so blase about social distancing. Some are even on their phone in their shorts as if it's a normal day wandering around!

  16. Yes I totally agree. I'm a supermarket worker also. Just moved to the checkouts as my department closed and most people respectful but some just don't care. Leaning over so close I've to get out of my chair. Honestly the rudeness of some. Unbelievable. !!
    Thankfully not everyone is the same and I just tell myself I'll not be staying here forever. Checkout workers worth their weight in gold. 👌

  17. I am one of the high risk disabled elderly that everyone is trying to protect.
    Without your endless committment to your job Amber I might not have been able to give my thanks to you and all the other shop workers who are keeping me fed and well.
    Stay safe and I trust everyone will come to appreciate the sterling work you do.

  18. This upset me so much, I hope you keep safe, stay positive. We need all of you, you amazing people. Xx

  19. I wholeheartedly agree, I work down the aisles of the same green crate supermarket as you, checking dates on food, and I am constantly bombarded by customers seemingly presuming I'm invincible because I'm wearing a visor. I jump back and say 'oh sorry am I in your way?', they always say 'no don't worry' 🤷🏻‍♀️🤯🤬

  20. I am a cashier at a supermarket ,everything you stated is true.The number of selfish people who are only concerned about themselves is truly staggering. The Comments directed to me as I put their shopping through the till so far have been ...can't you see i have a mask on , ...if you get it you get it ,....I am being too stupid ,how far do you want me to stand back then throw a bank note at me .... Put their card,or banknote in their mouth while they look for their loyalty card then offer said saliva covered money..card ,and finally a mother who allowed her children run over to my till,and ,upon requesting they step back ,Mum replied ,she did not need my disapproval and I should hurry up and put her shopping through.