In many ways, consumers of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) embody the values that current policies aim to encourage such as self-caring and private consumption. For example, the British Government’s choice agenda suggests patient choice and self-management are key government priorities and state that good information should be at the heart of all services. However, research on community pharmacies suggests that there is a continued lack of knowledge about CAM, especially herbal medicines and the limited research on health shops indicates that advice about CAM products is varied and inconsistent. Recognising the underlying tension of community pharmacies and health shops which combine both retail roles and promotion of patient wellbeing, we set out to examine customer advice seeking about CAM. The settings included independent and chain stores, selling varying amounts and types of CAM products. Data collection was ethnographic involving observation of staff–customer interactions, and semi-structured interviews with counter staff and people who purchased CAM products. The findings identified six main types of staff–customer interactions regarding over-the-counter CAM products. This typology ranged from needing significant amounts of help to needing very little including: help with diagnosis; help finding a general remedy; help with a specific product; free advice; pastoral care; and ‘just buying’. The implications of these findings are discussed in the light of ongoing debates about the place of CAM in UK mainstream medicine and the evidence base for CAM. Potentially a highly valuable community resource, there is a lack of support for community pharmacies and health shops despite the government’s choice agenda.