Who protects store associates when shoppers lash out?
Disturbing stories about customers confronting retail employees, sometimes violently, have been unfortunately growing in frequency in the U.S. for a number of years, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. One reporter recently attributed this escalation to an old retail truism she finds ill-suited to today’s world.
The retail mantra that “the customer is always right” has led to a sense of entitlement sometimes culminating in violence, journalist Avery Hartmans argued in a recent Business Insider article. Ms. Hartmans retells a series of alarming pandemic-era anecdotes about retail employees being threatened, assaulted and even killed over mask mandates. The article draws a connection between Amazon.com’s “Customer Obsession,” an ethos which focuses operations on customers getting exactly what they want, when they want it, and some shoppers’ dangerous sense of being unable to do wrong while in-store.
While customers defiant over mask mandates are an ongoing source of retail-related violence, there are other examples of customers becoming violent over not getting what they want.
For instance, earlier in 2021, Target, following a similar move by Walmart, announced it would temporarily stop selling trading cards after a violent, armed parking lot confrontation over a set of Pokémon cards at one U.S. store, according to Bleeding Cool.
Nor does the problem appear restricted to the U.S. As far back as 2016, reports from Australia described a growing problem with retail workers being insulted, intimidated, spit on and attacked. In the U.K., the problem has grown so big in recent years that the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released a document analyzing how to prevent retail violence, the first time it had done so since 1995.
The growth of organized retail theft in the U.S. is yet another source of potential violence against retail employees, so much so that chains like CVS have, in high-shoplifting areas like San Francisco, implemented policies restricting store security personnel from pursuing suspected shoplifters. The chain has seen security personnel assaulted on a regular basis in that city.
- How the simple phrase ‘the customer is always right’ gave shoppers a license to abuse workers – Business Insider
- Target Stores To Halt Sales Of All Trading Cards From May 14th Forward – Bleeding Cool
- Are retail associates ready to deal with abusive customers? – RetailWire
- Organized theft is turning San Francisco into retail’s Wild West – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do you think that store associates have become a common target for rude behavior and violence? How can retailers better protect employees from customers who cross the line of acceptable behavior?