One in five shoppers admits to showing aggression to shopworkers during Covid, Co-op reports


New research from Co-op today reveals that one in five customers admit to having been aggressive or abusive towards a shopworker over the course of the past eight months –  despite the fact that 90% of Brits feel that retail workers have provided an essential service during the Covid pandemic.

Shoppers are appalled at the abuse that shopworkers have to face, with 84% saying it’s unacceptable for shopworkers to put up with any form of violence or abuse and 82% calling for greater sentencing for offenders.

Co-op found that one in four of its frontline shopworkers have been on the receiving end of violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour with a 36% increase in these incidents this year (January – October 2020) compared to the same period in 2019 – on average, around 730 incidents per day.

Almost a quarter of aggressors (22%) said that frustrations caused by panic buying caused them to lash out at store staff, as did other customers not maintaining social distancing (18%).

People living in Greater London are most likely to have been abusive or aggressive (33% of all who confessed to poor behaviour) followed by those in Scotland (21%) and Wales (19%).

Customers in Yorkshire and the Humber were least likely to have behaved aggressively (only 9% of respondents). And over 70% of those who admitted to having lashed out were aged between 16 and 34 years of age.

What’s more, over 37% of shoppers have witnessed abuse, threatening behaviour and even violent acts directed at shopworkers since March, with over quarter of shoppers (26%) saying they stepped in to defend staff.

The research comes during Respect For Shopworkers Week as Co-op continues to push the Government to provide greater protection for retail workers by putting longer sentencing for in place offenders.

Jo Whitfield, Co-op Retail CEO, said:“It’s encouraging that most people recognise the essential role that shopworkers have played over recent months and that a third of people have relied on local shops more than ever throughout lockdown – but one in five people being aggressive or abusive is still one too many and store staff deserve better.

“Being on the receiving end of sustained, daily verbal abuse has a terrible impact on retail workers’ mental health, not to mention the catastrophic effects that physical violence will have. Everybody understands how challenging 2020 has been but our message remains clear – enough is enough, abuse and violence against shopworkers should not be tolerated in today’s society and we will do everything in our power to ensure the Government puts greater legal protection in place so they can feel safer when they go into work.”

Alex Norris MP, whose Assaults on Retail Workers Bill is due to get its second hearing in Parliament next year, said: “During the Covid-19 outbreak we have seen an increased prevalence of abuse and violence towards shopworkers, but these unacceptable acts are something that retail employees have to contend with regularly, simply for doing their jobs. I believe if we ask employees to enforce the law, they should be better protected. Covid has stopped my important Bill to protect these workers. But the Government can act anyway and should do.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s General Secretary, said: “In Respect for Shopworkers Week we welcome this Co-op research looking into customer attitudes about abuse of retail workers. Usdaw’s surveys consistently find that the vast majority of shoppers rightly value and respect retail staff, who are key workers delivering an essential service. However,  three-quarters of retail staff tell us that abuse, threats and assaults have become worse during the pandemic. The public, shopworkers and retail employers are calling on Government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault the shop-workers. We urge Government to now offer more than sympathy and, support the Alex Norris Bill. In the meantime, we ask the public to sign our petition to secure a debate in the House of Commons.”

The issue of violence and abuse against shopworkers is often hidden with more than two-thirds of respondents unaware of what staff have to face on a daily basis. But 84% say it’s unacceptable for shopworkers to put up with any form of violence or abuse and 82% are calling for greater sentencing for offenders. A third (33%) now say they’ll make more effort to say thank you to shopworkers.

Co-op has invested £70 million, and has pledged to invest the same amount again over the next three years, in the latest measures to make colleagues safer, including the latest remote monitored CCTV, body-worn cameras which can send real-time audio and visual footage to its security support centre and, SmartWater fog cannons.