Two thirds of shop workers fearful of implementing Covid-19 regulations due to increase in abuse, research finds

Two thirds of UK shop workers have said they fear abuse from customers if they try to implement Covid-19-related regulations when non-essential shops reopen next week. 

New research by Reveal, which designs and manufactures body worn cameras for frontline workers, found that the growing threat of abusive customers has also left 60 per cent of returning retail staff feeling anxious, stressed and frightened about going back to work from 12 April.

A number of major UK retailers have already raised concerns about the extent of aggression being experienced by their employees, with one business citing more than 1,000 violent incidents in the week face coverings were made compulsory in stores.

Three quarters of all shop workers who took part in Reveal’s study of 2,000 adults agreed there had been an increase in incidents of staff dealing with rude, abusive or violent shoppers since the pandemic began.

More worryingly, two in three said that the fear of abuse or assault had resulted in them failing to implement Covid-19-related regulations in the last year.

One third admitted that they had been too frightened or intimidated to ask shoppers to wear a mask or stick to social distancing guidelines on at least one occasion. Limiting the number of people in stores had also proved an issue for one in four shop workers.

Overall, 63 per cent of workers dealing directly with customers said they often felt unsafe as a result of having to deal with angry, aggressive or unpleasant shoppers. Half of all shop staff said they have had to take time off work after having to deal with an abusive customer.

Only one in six said they were prepared to ignore the potential for conflict with customers and implement COVID safety measures come what may. 

Supermarket worker Alison Chown from Huddersfield says that dealing with abuse from shoppers has become part of her job:  “Everything causes conflict, from asking people to wear a mask to offering hand santiser when they enter the store. I get customers shouting and waving their arms at me when I ask them to keep to a safe distance.

“You shouldn’t be going to work dreading who you’re going to come across but it’s sad to say that this is part of the job at the moment. We know it’s going to happen.”

Alasdair Field, CEO of Reveal, said: “Far too many shop workers have been left feeling unsafe due to the growing threat of angry and abusive customers. This has only intensified since the pandemic began.

“Covid-19 has reminded employers everywhere of the duty of care they have to their teams. So whatever happens to people’s behaviour as we emerge from lockdown, it is time to take action to protect workers that serve the public, with new solutions that deescalate these kind of situations before they occur, such as technology and training.”

Reveal’s study also shows a trend in abusive behaviour towards retail workers pre-COVID-19, with 67 per cent admitting they’d seen an increase even before the pandemic started.

69 retail leaders petitioned the Prime Minister in February asking for it to become a statutory offence to assault, threaten or abuse a shop worker in England or Wales, following the introduction of similar legislation in Scotland.

The Reveal study found that 76 per cent of shop workers agree tougher action should be taken in England and Wales. 79 per cent would like their employer to mirror the actions of high street brands like Boots, Matalan and JD Sports, who  are protecting their staff with body worn cameras to help de-escalate confrontations, as well as providing clear evidence should anything untoward occur.

Three quarters of staff said they felt body worn cameras were a good thing for themselves and for shoppers, while a similar number admitted that wearing a front-facing camera would improve confidence and reduce anxiety when dealing with abusive patrons.

Alasdair Field, CEO of Reveal, added: “What we’ve learnt from many years of working with the police, government and health sectors is that front-facing body worn cameras provide support, reassurance, and confidence to both staff and the public. They are proven to reduce complaints, increase safety and limit the use of force and these are essential elements in boosting the recovery of the UK’s high streets in the post-COVID world.”