War In The Supermarket: Britain A Nation Of Abusive Shoppers

A study commissioned by G4S Security Services (UK) (‘G4S’) reveals that retailers increasingly operate in an unacceptable environment where members of the public believe it is acceptable to be abusive and threatening towards store employees.

In the last five years over 1.6 million Britons have verbally abused retail employees who they felt gave them poor customer service.  Worryingly, many Britons do not perceive that there is anything wrong with this behaviour, says G4S.  One-in-20, (over 1.5 million), Britons believe it is morally acceptable to verbally abuse a store employee if they were given poor customer service in a supermarket or other retail outlet.

Shockingly, over 150,000 Britons believe they are justified in physically abusing someone that has given them poor customer service in a retail outlet such as a supermarket.  This trend has resulted in retail staff being provided with crisis resolution training to diffuse potential incidents. With 42 reported incidents of G4S officers operating in a retail environment being the victims of assault with a deadly weapon this year, this is clearly a cause for concern. The research reveals that significant numbers of Britons believe that crimes against big businesses, such as the major supermarkets and high street retail chains, are ‘victimless’ or morally acceptable.  Twice as many Britons (760,000) think it is acceptable to shoplift from a large retailer compared to a small independent owner-operator retailer (296,000) such as a local newsagent or confectioner’s.

Douglas Greenwell, Sales & Marketing Director, G4S Security Services (UK), commented: “It is wholly unacceptable that retail employees should face the threat of verbal or physical assault.  While shoppers are increasingly time pressured and expect high levels of service, this should not be allowed to translate into abuse towards store workers.  We would advocate a zero tolerance policy in the face of this disturbing trend, prohibiting any shopper from re-entering a store where they have been found guilty of assaulting an employee. It is disturbing that some Britons have the attitude that crimes against big businesses are victimless compared to crimes perpetrated against smaller independent retail outlets.  All crimes have victims and consequences, costing livelihoods, employment and ultimately driving up costs for all shoppers.”

Retailers can take proactive steps to mitigate the threat of verbal or physical abuse faced by employees.  The deployment of trained security officers in-store can deter volatile shoppers from becoming abusive in the first instance, whilst covert officers can monitor customer profiles; ensuring offenders are swiftly identified and dealt with accordingly. Many towns and retail centres now share intelligence in real time, which can result in abusive individuals being legally prohibited from entering specific stores and shopping areas.

Martin Gill, Professor of Criminology of University of Leicester spin out company, Perpetuity, noted: “The most worrying aspect to these findings on victimisation from crime is that they suggest that retailers and retail staff are considered fair game. This is further evidence that those on the front line are amongst those most likely to be affected. Hopefully this study will help highlight the problem so that those who may suffer can be on their guard.”

G4S Website