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February 21, 2012

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Store's seniors policy stirs anger

A Hualian GMS store, a leading hypermarket brand in Shanghai, has started asking seniors and the physically challenged to be escorted when shopping, a practice that has generated anger from the affected groups.

Representatives of the GMS Xincun outlet in Putuo District explained the move came out of "safety concerns." But to the senior and handicapped shoppers, the big post in red font at the entrance to remind the public of the new practice caused them consternation.

Some senior shoppers on their way to enter the supermarket turned angry and immediately left upon seeing the post. They complained the suggestion was discriminatory and made them feel "seriously hurt."

Some wheelchair-bound customers also left for fear of being further embarrassed. A woman complained to local media yesterday that she was afraid of "being ordered to leave" if she entered alone and so she just dropped her shopping plan.

Lawyers said a supermarket could be in violation of consumer rights for carrying out a prohibition. The physically weak and challenged have the same shopping rights as ordinary customers, they said.

The store managers, however, explained they only meant to "kindly remind" the special group how to shop more safely and said they would not drive away these customers if they shop inside unattended.

They said they considered the "reminder" necessary because they had been going into frequent compensation disputes regarding seniors who accidentally fell when shopping alone. The store managers said they were "too busy" handling such compensation claims.

But customers said the store should focus more on improving the store environment to protect the weak shoppers, rather than shunning them.

It marked the second time in the past week that a big local supermarket saw its new policies catch fire with the public. A Century Lianhua supermarket in Pudong shut down its free shuttle pick-ups amid cost pressure last week. It expressed concern that too many seniors used the buses as a free ride or only shopped for a few goods. The store also axed such services in some other outlets, drawing complaints from shoppers.

Both Hualian GMS and Lianhua supermarkets are owned by Shanghai Bailian Group, China's biggest retailing company.


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