Are tattoos no longer taboo on retail selling floors?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/RgStudio
Apr 14, 2022

A new university study finds that customers don’t necessarily look down on employees with tattoos — and in some settings, ink is seen as a plus.

The research from Rice University and the University of Houston found that, in a field experiment assessing purchasing behavior, employees with tattoos sold just as many products as employees who did not have them.

In some professional settings, such as white-collar jobs that involve artistic skills, customers were found to view tattooed employees and the companies they work for just as positively — or even more positively — than companies and employees in workplaces without tattoos.

Enrica Ruggs, a professor in Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, said in a statement, “Our findings suggest that at least in some industries, customers are not that bothered by tattooed employees.”

At the same time, researchers at Colorado State University earlier this year found that, while the population with tattoos continues to grow, biases against hiring tattooed workers continues. Three studies found tattooed applicants were less likely to be hired, especially if they have larger, more aggressive tattoos that are harder to conceal. Those with mild tattoos who were hired were offered lower salaries and rated lower on competence than their non-tattooed counterparts, and people with more extreme tattoos were hit even harder by these discrepancies.

Researchers suggested those considering body art may opt for less extreme tattoos in easily concealed locations to increase their odds of getting a job offer, but also encouraged the training of hiring managers to focus on job qualifications and competence. Colorado State management professor Chris Henle said in a statement, “If you throw all these people out, you could be missing out on a really great employee.”

A study from researchers at the University of Miami in 2018 uncovered little discriminatory behavoir regarding workers with tattoos.

According to a Rasmussen survey from earlier this year, a third of Americans and nearly half under 40 have tattoos, although about twice as many Americans think tattoos make someone less attractive (28 percent) than more attractive (14 percent).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have customers become accustomed to tattoos — even extreme versions — on store associates? Is there a natural bias against hiring retail workers with tattoos that needs to be overcome?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I want the person serving me to be pleasant and helpful and that’s it. I don’t care if they have tattoos, jewelry, shocking pink hair or anything else."
"Imagine if I needed tech support at a Staples and the person had a face tattoo but knew exactly what my problem was and how to fix it. I’d be delighted not offended."
"Well, I got my first tattoo on my 60th birthday — from my very own son who’s an amazing tattoo artist! So, I might be a bit biased."

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24 Comments on "Are tattoos no longer taboo on retail selling floors?"


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Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Disney allows cast members to openly sport tattoos everywhere except the face, head and neck. If Disney says it’s okay that should be the ultimate answer to this question. Today, almost everyone has tattoos so what’s the big deal?

Employers will have to decide for themselves what kinds of tattoos/placement is acceptable and what is not, but they will have to make a decision because tattoos aren’t a short-term fad.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’m going to disagree with you, Georganne – something I rarely do. According to the article, only a third have tattoos, so not almost everyone. I think enough people might not think well of tattoos that if you have a front-facing job, visible tattoos might not be the look you’re going for.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Okay, Boomer. 😉

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Too true, Georganne. But as Dave McCaughan will tell you, a key portion of any retailer’s customer base.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I know, just having fun with you. But I do think that tattoos are commonplace and consumers in most industries are pretty used to seeing them. I really don’t care what you look like, I just want the service you provide to be good.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

If I might join this conversation at the Senior Center, 🙂 the claim of indifference notwithstanding, what happens when you encounter someone just as friendly and helpful at a competitor and their skin is a blank canvas? Even if only subconsciously, many will make that choice.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Georganne, the real issue is around ink censorship. True, tats are no big deal … in general … but specific ink, say swastikas, White Power slogans, some biker “code” ink, and overtly sexual tats might turn even the most Gen Per off.

The problem then becomes who is/or should be the judge of what is or isn’t potentially offensive, and that’s a much trickier issue. Can, for example, an employee hire one employee with lots of little lambs running upon and down her/his arms, but refuse someone with a visible “88” on the back of their hand?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Ryan, your comment is why I said employers have to decide for themselves what kind of tattoo and placement is acceptable and what is not.

Disney’s policy is a good one: “Visible tattoos are permitted, with the exception of placement on the face, head or neck. Tattoos must be no larger than the Cast Member’s hand when fully extended with the fingers held together.

Undergarments, which include matching fabric tattoo sleeves, are permitted for coverage of larger tattoos on the arms.

Tattoos that depict nudity, offensive or inappropriate language or images, or violate Company policies (including policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, age, disability or any other protected category) are not permitted.”

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Finding great team members who are enthusiastic and ready to work is what’s important. If you would have told me 40 years ago that everyone, including my daughter, would have ink, I would have laughed. Societal norms regarding tattoos have changed dramatically over the past decade. Hiring managers have adjusted, most customers have adjusted. Live and let live as they say.

Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Agreed. For many consumers, the top priority is going to be good service, not employee tattoos.

And in the name of the inclusivity messages that brands preach today, it would also seem pretty hypocritical to me to be against tattoos.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Katie,

Yes … but …

As I just noted on Georganne’s comment how do you handle the censorship problem? If I’m wearing a “White Power” tee shirt my employer can ask me to change. If I have White Supremacist ink — which an employer may or may not recognize for what it is — it’s a little harder to change. And, that opens up the whole free speech can of worms.

So, while I strongly agree with you in general, in specific I don’t think it’s always a binary choice.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
7 months 15 days ago

I believe this is a slow process in acceptance especially in this time where finding great employees is a difficult task. I think where in the past, a manager might have not hired someone because they had a sleeve tattoo that could not be covered, they might now have a tendency to overlook that especially if the skill set and job experience fits the needs of the business. I think it will be a long long time before there is general acceptance. I remember when I started work in retail, facial hair was advised against (for obvious reasons). It took over 15 years before it was more widely accepted in retail.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

What the customer wants is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly store associates. That is a differentiator, not if somebody has a tattoo or not.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I am appalled. “Those with mild tattoos who were hired were offered lower salaries and rated lower on competence than their non-tattooed counterparts, and people with more extreme tattoos were hit even harder by these discrepancies.” Do tattoos mean that one is less competent than one without tattoos?

However it sounds like we are going in the correct direction in adjusting to tattoos in all businesses. For me, tattoos amaze me rather than put me off. This morning’s barista has a tattoo sleeve that is wonderfully attractive. She also has several apparent piercings, but she makes excellent coffee. Isn’t that her job?

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Who cares?! Seriously, this is so minor. I want the person serving me to be pleasant and helpful and that’s it. I don’t care if they have tattoos, jewelry, shocking pink hair or anything else. The only line to be drawn is against anything deeply offensive – i.e. racist slogans, symbols, etc.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

Unless the tattoo has something objectionable about it (husband of best friend of my daughter has f*%k tattooed on his fingers — not cool), I’d say it’s well accepted in society. Even Mike Tyson-style face tattoos are OK. Imagine if I needed tech support at a Staples and the person had a face tattoo but knew exactly what my problem was and how to fix it. I’d be delighted not offended.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

C’mon, we don’t have to ask this one anymore, do we? I’m not sure I can say I know ONE person under 30 without one!

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

PREACH! Self expression is self expression and so many people are tired of old and crusty norms. My southern belle mother always preached that tattoos are “common” and, as an artist at heart, it drove me nuts. I got one the second I turned 18 and it’s in a subtle place, but every person has a right to do whatever they want to express who they are without worrying about having to find a job.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

THIS.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

Well, I got my first tattoo on my 60th birthday — from my very own son who’s an amazing tattoo artist! So, I might be a bit biased. Certainly with all the focus on DEI initiatives, having a tattoo is completely acceptable. Some of the very best store managers I’ve trained have lots of tattoos. Get past how someone looks, tattoos or not, and assess them on their character and skills.

RandyDandy
Guest
7 months 15 days ago
The problem is not about tatts—that cat’s already out of the bag—it’s about determining when/where a line has been crossed with where they appear and what they’re saying (and if either does or does not work for a certain job and company). Despite saying it’s determined, determinability is always a very fluid process. As such, I remember working—in a couple very artistic/creative settings—where it was obvious you could not find a lot of capable workers who were not already inked. But they were told to hide/cover them, or else. However that quickly became an impossible way to go. As in, how can you say that as long as tatts were under sleeves, skirt/pant hems and necklines if was fine, but that the eventual “creep” of one suddenly made for dismissal? And now, how can one (in hiring) really say that as long as you don’t have one on the neck, hands or face you are good?! Or if it says “mother” you’re in, but writing “Damn, Daddy” means you’re out?! Not too surprisingly the same… Read more »
Roland Gossage
BrainTrust
7 months 15 days ago

I agree that tattoos are acceptable in the retail setting with the exception of tattoos with non-acceptable content or on the face.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“…don’t necessarily look down…” That sums up the dilemma pretty well, because, of course, some do; or more to the point, in many cases there are a range of emotions from “really hate” through “indifferent” to “really like.”

As with many or most things in retail — or life, really — a certain recognition of current conditions and flexibility makes for that thing called common sense. Tatts that can’t be seen, or are above the elbow (i.e. only peek out from a short-sleeved shirt) are largely a non issue; lower arms and legs are iffy; fingers and necks probably not (at least for a typical retailer). A store that welcomes someone with a 2″ face swastika — whichever side of the counter they may be on — I don’t really have any experience with … and don’t plan to.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Much of the systems and institutions surrounding us are designed to make us a good fit for the corporate culture. As a result, we are all conditioned to believe that the right way to live is to comply with the rules established by these systems. It tells us how we should dress and act. Tattoos, on the other hand, signify a person’s freedom of choice. A person who has a tattoo is brave enough to express oneself beyond their physical appearance. They are not scared to share who they are and what they believe with anybody and everyone. In today’s competitive retail environment, firms require such brave store associates who will not limit themselves to their everyday tasks in order to provide the optimum service to customers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I want the person serving me to be pleasant and helpful and that’s it. I don’t care if they have tattoos, jewelry, shocking pink hair or anything else."
"Imagine if I needed tech support at a Staples and the person had a face tattoo but knew exactly what my problem was and how to fix it. I’d be delighted not offended."
"Well, I got my first tattoo on my 60th birthday — from my very own son who’s an amazing tattoo artist! So, I might be a bit biased."

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