90% of retail workers – and 95% of managers – have revealed they have been abused by customers at work – being threatened, punched in the face and hit with a metal basket.
In addition, 14% of retail workers said they experience abuse up to three times a week, for a third of those surveyed it is happening weekly and two thirds of respondents said the shouting, abusive language, insults and threats have gotten worse over the last two years.
But despite 63% of colleagues surveyed admitting customer abuse has left them feeling stressed or anxious about going to work – 24% revealed they did not report incidents to managers.
And almost a quarter said they wouldn’t call the police because they or a manager had tried this before and found it unhelpful.
The findings have been revealed in a poll by charity Retail Trust and now bosses are calling for victims to report abuse and get support needed.
“Hit around the head by a shoplifter”
Chris Brook Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust, said: “Thousands of shop workers are contacting us to say they now fear for their safety, and this is simply unacceptable.
“Every day we’re hearing from people who have been shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit at work, sometimes several times a week, so we’re very concerned.
“One person told us they were hit around the head by a shoplifter with a metal basket, another was knocked out cold by an angry customer, and this is on top of the vile insults and threats handed out on an all-too-regular basis.
“As a country and a society, we must get better at bringing an end to this terrible behaviour, making sure every incident is recorded and acted upon, and above all, ensuring that our colleagues across the country get the protection and support they need.
“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. Abuse is never part of anyone’s job and if you’re a retail worker encountering abuse, threats or violence, please do report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline if you need any support dealing with your experiences.”
Urgent action needed
Retail Trust has now joined forces with the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Foot Anstey, Peoplesafe, Usdaw and retailers including Ann Summers, B&Q, bp, Co-op, Primark and WHSmith to call for urgent, meaningful change that protects and supports the wellbeing of staff.
In a joint letter to the Home Office from the BRC, they called for urgent action to tackle ‘intolerable levels of violence and abuse against retail workers’.
They want the government to create a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker – similar to current laws in Scotland – as well as higher priority police responses, which was indicated as a desire by retail workers in the poll.
Retail Trust said Kirsty, a 34-year-old customer advisor for a hardware store, was told by a customer ‘I will slam your face through the desk’ before being punched in the face.
Another report was from Moses, 42, a department store manager, who asked a banned customer to leave before being hit on the head with a metal basket and ending up in A&E needing stitches.
Others have been threatened ‘I’ll get you fired’ or ‘I know where you live.’
“My confidence dropped”
Former supermarket store assistant Callie reached a tipping point at work ten months ago.
She said: “A customer was being disruptive, banging the metal ‘next customer’ till divider on the checkout. I asked him politely to stop. He refused and whacked me across the face with the metal bar, knocking me out cold. My confidence dropped and eventually, I had to leave a job that I loved.”
More than a third of retail workers said customer abuse is making them consider leaving retail.
And in a public poll 68% of people admitted having got annoyed with a shopworker, delivery driver or somebody working in customer services. Of these, nearly a quarter said they raised their voice or lost their temper.
Almost half of the respondents said they had witnessed abusive behaviour towards a shop worker in the last two years.
Some other measures to highlight the issue include Ann Summers assembling a dedicated task force to track incidents and create an open culture of reporting and supporting colleagues.
Similarly Co-op has invited 50 members of parliament into stores this autumn to discuss solutions.
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