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How poor customer behavior is harming retail asssociates

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Why are customers so angry?

Over the last five years, consumer expectations have risen as mobile commerce, personalization and next day delivery have become commonplace. Consumers are quick to vocalize their belief that they are always right and demand compensation even when the circumstances, or their behavior, don’t warrant it.

Additionally, brands find themselves being held to ransom on social media, knowing only too well how quickly their reputation can be destroyed online. The increase in abusive and violent behavior from customers toward retail staff has increased since the start of the pandemic. While this trend has dramatically increased in the space of 3 years, it has now become a very real and dangerous crisis. Public-facing staff in retail have seen a marked increase in the levels of threats, abusive language, shouting and physical assaults towards them.

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Worryingly, in 2020, assaults resulted in 20,050 injuries and assault has now become the fifth leading cause of workplace deaths, according to the National Safety Council's Injury Facts. The impact of this is taking a massive, sometimes tragic, toll on mental health as well as physical health and safety at work.

During 2021-2022, 48.4% of full-time retail associates have considered leaving their jobs, with 22% of them stating ‘high anxiety’ as the reason. Some have suggested that the restrictions on social interaction caused by COVID-19 have heightened our internal ‘threat system’ and our instincts to fight off an unseen enemy have been triggered. Combine this with political and economic unrest, concerns about the rise in the cost of living, inflation and daily news of war and violent crime and many people have become a lot more fearful and combative.

While everyone initially applauded retail and health workers for keeping us all safe, fed and stocked up with essentials, as the world went into a COVID-induced lockdown, the goodwill seems to have been short lived.

Frustration with government advice, social distancing and mask-wearing has turned quickly into verbal abuse and aggressive behavior. So much so that dealing with violence against staff has become the number one concern for a majority of retailers.

What causes customers to become abusive?

Drugs and alcohol, although not exclusively, certainly play a role in a large number of retail crime incidents. Retail workers are increasingly placed at an alarming risk of violence and abuse compared to members of the general public. There are several different triggers for customers who develop abusive behavior towards store associates. Being refused the sale of alcohol, or other age-related goods, has often been seen as the most common reason for antisocial behavior. But theft is increasingly becoming a huge problem in the sector. Low staffing levels, self-scan tills, racism and refunds/exchange issues have now become flash points for customer rage. As crime rates have increased in other areas of society, so has the pressure on police and security forces to respond quickly and effectively.

With increasing demands on law enforcement resources, the retail sector often has little option but to try to appease abusive customers or ignore behavior such as theft. As our shopping experiences have changed over recent years, new flashpoints for abuse have been created. Asking for customer age-ID from behind a counter is a very different experience from standing alongside shoppers at a self-serve checkout. Staffing shortages have also made it more difficult for people to speak to customer service. 33% of customers say they are most frustrated by having to repeat themselves to multiple support reps.

The consequences of such actions can often cause immense, and often long term, harm. It can be very hard for employees not to take these abusive situations personally. Retail workers are often left in tears and shock at how aggressive people are, leading to distrust of customers in future situations.

Ending retail violence with body-worn cameras

With the level of abuse in retail not showing any sign of reduction, a fresh approach is required. Reveal's signature front-facing body camera has already been proven to be a situation-changing tool in the de-escalation of abusive incidents in retail. Positive results in the UK, in a variety of popular retail environments, have shown significant improvements in protecting employees and calming irate customers. Our customer Boots, part of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, have seen a 45% reduction in incidents of violence and aggression towards store team members in stores where the Reveal retail body cameras were worn consistently.

Discover Reveal’s body camera for retail