Concern for returning customer-facing staff as Coronavirus measures add to risk of abuse

Research from commercial insurer NFU Mutual reveals that 40% of customers have witnessed a staff member suffer verbal or physical abuse at a retail or hospitality venue in the last year.  The news follows pleas from the British Retail Consortium for consumers to respect staff during the re-opening of non-essential retail this week.

Supermarkets are the worst affected, with 31% of customers witnessing an incident there, followed by high street shops (20%), pubs (18%) and restaurants (16%).

The research further revealed that 60% percent of customers have experienced increased anxiety visiting a retail or hospitality venue over the last year. Supermarket visits caused the most worry, with 43% reporting increased anxiety when visiting these venues, followed by pubs (34%), restaurants (33%) and high street shops (32%) – the same four venues worst affected by retail violence.

Frank Woods, retail sector specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s a difficult time for many. Health concerns, lockdown fatigue and changing restrictions mean that customer emotions are already running high during a visit to a retail or hospitality venue. The correlation between customer anxiety and abuse incidents suggests that these heightened emotions are translating to an increased risk for customer facing staff.

“Nobody should have to suffer abuse in the workplace, especially when enforcing company – and in some cases legal – requirements. Our research shows that Coronavirus measures have been at the root of many abuse incidents in the last year, with 23% of consumers having witnessed incidents related to mask challenges, and 22% reporting issues resulting from social distancing rules.

“With shops expected to be busy over the coming weekend, crowds and queues may strain customer emotions even further, putting staff at increased risk.”

Despite ongoing cause for concern, almost half of businesses surveyed by NFU Mutual do not take any measures to minimise the risk of workplace violence.

Woods commented: “Taking action to prevent retail violence is a crucial step in protecting staff welfare. Insurance can provide cover against legal action, injuries and property damage, but businesses should make additional preparations.

“We would urge employers to put tailored measures in place, especially provision of appropriate staff training.  Not only does training ensure staff are prepared to deal with incidents, it could prove important to a retailer’s reputation, and influence a consumer’s future shopping habits. Forty percent of consumers said they would be more likely to return to a venue if a retail violence incident was well-handled.”

Top tips to lessen customer anxiety and protect staff welfare as shops re-open

  • Make your rules and COVID-19 arrangements clear on your website
  • Where possible, give advice on quieter shopping times for customers who would prefer to shop outside of busy periods
  • Make sure you have clear measures in place for social distancing, face coverings and hygiene
  • Use signage both outside and across the shop floor to make visitors aware of these rules and expectations. As well as reminding customers, the signs can support staff members enforcing rules.
  • Ensure hand sanitising facilities are available and don’t forget about social distancing at these locations
  • Ensure your staff receive appropriate information, instruction or training on how to implement additional control measures before they begin work again
  • Assess whether you have sufficient staff trained to keep people safe, considering both customers and workers
  • Consult government guidance or speak to your retail trade association if you are unsure about steps you need to take in light of Coronavirus restrictions