Retailers advised to prepare employees for violence and abuse

In Industry Comment, Industry News On

Research from business insurer NFU Mutual has found that over half of consumers (52%) have witnessed some form of abuse towards retail staff in the past three years, ranging from customers belittling or being patronising, cursing and shouting, to physical attacks upon employees.

A spike in violent attacks upon staff in retail published by The British Retail Consortium’s latest Retail Crime Survey has led the insurer to explore the impact of retail violence, also finding that nearly four out of five (79%) consumers expect retail staff to have the necessary training to effectively manage a verbally or physically abusive customer.

Despite this, nearly half (45%) of the customer-facing businesses which were also surveyed said that they are not actively taking any measures to protect their staff. If anything, the measures that they take include having a policy statement, CCTV or always doubling up on staff.

NFU Mutual retail specialist Frank Woods said: “Employers’ Liability and Public Liability claims remain to be the highest cost to us as a commercial insurer and unfortunately while most is accidental damage, the sad fact is that some is down to threatening behaviour or even assault. It’s not only the physical abuse that employees receive but also the emotional cost of everyday discourtesy.

“Many retail staff are young people taking their first steps into the working world, often doing so for minimum wage, and these sorts of encounters can crush their enthusiasm to pursue a career in retail which is a particular threat while Brexit approaches, and questions about recruiting talent remain unanswered. No-one deserves to be spoken to rudely or feel threatened at work, no matter their profession.”

Reinforcing the importance of staff training, the research, which also covered all types of businesses, found that while consumers are relatively undeterred by a badly handled incident, a well handled incident can improve a business’s reputation and enhance the likelihood that consumers will return. Talking about premises they regularly visit, 40% of consumers would be just as likely or even more likely to visit if an incident was handled well as they would feel very safe. Whilst 14% would be put off by a poorly handled incident at somewhere they regularly visit, a quarter (26%) would be put off somewhere they are visiting for the first time.

Frank continued: “Consumers have a clear, perhaps idealistic expectation that retail staff are trained to keep themselves and customers safe. While this may not always be possible, a well-handled incident – perhaps with the use of a panic button or a security guard – could even help to improve reputation and encourage visits. It’s the responsibility of the management to keep people safe and although insurance can provide cover against legal action, the best option is always preparation. Property damage and damage to security systems is also a common issue of violence in retail premises, which can be limited by following certain precautions.”

The NFU Mutual study also found that 80% of consumers would either physically (32%) or verbally (48%) intervene if a member of staff was being attacked by another customer. Men and women are almost equally likely to verbally intervene if a customer is being rude to a member of staff (39% of men and 38% of women), while men are more likely to physically intervene if a staff member was being attacked (47%).

The vast majority of consumers (86%) agree with potential legislation changes that would provide better protection for retail workers, with those in Scotland, East of England and the South West most likely to agree.

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