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Let's respect retail together.

As a new Retail Trust poll reveals the increasing impact of customer abuse on retail workers’ wellbeing, our respect retail campaign calls for urgent collective action. Here’s why it’s time to join our campaign and report abusive incidents so colleagues can get the support they need.

“I will slam your face through the desk”. This is what Kirsty, a 34-year-old customer advisor for a hardware store was told, minutes before a customer punched her in the face. For Moses, 42, a department store manager, it was asking a banned customer to leave that resulted in a trip to A&E for stitches in his head after the customer struck him with a metal basket.  

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For others, it’s the threats of “I’ll get you fired” or “I know where you live,” that are increasingly all part of a day’s work for 90% of retail workers (and 95% of managers) who told the Retail Trust they have experienced customer abuse.   

In the last two years, two thirds of colleagues surveyed said that customer abuse – including shouting, abusive language, insults and threats – has got worse, with more than a third saying they now experience abuse on a weekly basis. For 14% of retail workers, it’s happening up to three times a week.  

This rising intolerance epidemic is backed-up by a new YouGov public poll for the Retail Trust, which sees 68% of people admitting to having got annoyed with a shopworker, delivery driver or somebody working in customer services. Of these, nearly a quarter said they raised their voice or lost their temper. 

This is why the Retail Trust has joined forces with the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Foot Anstey, Peoplesafe, Usdaw and leading retailers, including Ann Summers, B&Q, bp, Co-op, Primark and WHSmith to call for urgent, meaningful change that protects and supports the wellbeing of our colleagues.

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The message the Retail Trust is sending to retailers and colleagues through respect retail is: ‘report it and support it’. Because despite 63% of colleagues surveyed admitting that customer abuse has left them feeling stressed or anxious about going to work, 24% revealed they did not report incidents to managers because they didn’t feel anyone would help (38%). What’s more, almost a quarter said they wouldn’t call the police because they or a manager had tried this before and found it unhelpful.

“Thousands of shop workers are contacting us to say they now fear for their safety, and this is simply unacceptable,” said Chris Brook Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust.

“Every day we’re hearing from people who have been shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit at work, sometimes several times a week, so we’re very concerned. One person told us they were hit around the head by a shoplifter with a metal basket, another was knocked out cold by an angry customer, and this is on top of the vile insults and threats handed out on an all-too-regular basis.

“As a country and a society, we must get better at bringing an end to this terrible behaviour, making sure every incident is recorded and acted upon, and above all, ensuring that our colleagues across the country get the protection and support they need.

“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. Abuse is never part of anyone’s job and if you’re a retail worker encountering abuse, threats or violence, please do report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline if you need any support dealing with your experiences.”

We at the Retail Trust added our support to a letter to the Home Office from the BRC, calling for urgent action to tackle intolerable levels of violence and abuse against retail workers. In this, and as part of respect retail, we are calling on the government to create a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker – similar to current laws in Scotland – to send a vital signal to colleagues that they are not alone and they are protected.  

In addition, we are calling for higher priority police responses, after 62% of retail workers told us they would like to see harsher penalties and more police action to tackle customer abuse.  

“Luckily people in retail have access to the Retail Trust because to be honest, you don’t get a lot of support otherwise,” former supermarket store assistant Callie told us after reaching a tipping point at work ten months ago. “A customer was being disruptive, banging the metal ‘next customer’ till divider on the checkout. I asked him politely to stop. He refused and whacked me across the face with the metal bar, knocking me out cold. My confidence dropped and eventually, I had to leave a job that I loved.” 

More than a third of colleagues said that customer abuse is making them consider leaving retail, and another concerning trend is the impact it’s having on customers. Almost half of the respondents in our public poll said they have witnessed abusive behaviour towards a shop worker in the last two years and, while it is heartening that 53% said they would speak up in support of a shop worker, retailers do not want to see customers or colleagues putting themselves at risk of harm. 

What we can all agree on (according to 99% of colleagues) is that the public must be kinder to retail workers. Genuine, lasting change is only possible when we work together on these goals, which is why the Retail Trust has partnered with retailers including Ann Summers, B&Q, bp, Co-op, Primark and WHSmith to help put an end to the intolerance epidemic.  

Many retailers are already making great leaps in tackling the issue, with Co-op working closely with policing figures and inviting 50 members of parliament into stores this autumn to discuss solutions. For Ann Summers, it was assembling a dedicated task force to track incidents and create an open culture of reporting and supporting colleagues. 

Ahead of another busy festive period, we are calling for all colleagues to know they are not alone. If it’s happening to you, report it so that retailers can better support it. For 24-hour wellbeing support, call the Retail Trust helpline on 0808 801 0808. 

First-hand accounts from retail colleagues

  • VMP - Zarah-8

    “It is terrifying”

    2023-11-01T12:31:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Zarah is a Co-op store manager in East London. Zarah sometimes feels frightened at work owing to an increase in retail crime. 

  • VMP - Stephanie-8

    “I’m going to thump you”

    2023-10-25T09:15:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Stephanie, 40, is a bookseller based in Conwy. Stephanie loves her job but sometimes, the customer abuse pulls all the joy out of Stephanie’s day.

  • VMP - Seren-10

    “You won’t have a job by the end of the week”

    2023-10-25T09:15:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Seren, 48, is a senior manager of a clothing store based in Dorset. Seren has to face regular abuse and threats to report the team which Seren often has to defend to head office. 

  • VMP - Anon Oliver-4

    “I’ll get you fired”

    2023-10-24T21:34:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Oliver, 22, is a sales assistant for a hardware store based in Dorset. Oliver regularly feels vulnerable at work and has considered leaving their job owing to the growing abuse Oliver faces daily.

  • VMP - Moses-2

    “I’ll punch you in the face”

    2023-10-24T21:23:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Moses, 42, is a department manager in a large store, based in Essex. Moses has been physically attacked by customers at least 20 times in his 20-year career. 

  • VMP - Anon Kirsty-7

    “I will slam your face through the desk”

    2023-10-24T21:16:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Kirsty, 34, is a customer advisor for a hardware store in Essex. Kirsty had to step down from a management role temporarily as regular customer abuse caused damage to Kirsty’s mental health.  

  • VMP - Hana-1

    “You’re going to lose your job over this”

    2023-10-24T21:06:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Hana, 39, is a customer advisor for a hair and beauty wholesaler, based in Norfolk. Hana has worked in retail for a long time but has started to feel unsafe at work.  

  • VMP - Anon Callie-Jo-6

    “I saw your uniform on your washing line”

    2023-10-24T20:44:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Callie, 30, is a supermarket store assistant, from Yorkshire. Callie had to leave a job that they loved after a series of abusive experiences. 

  • VMP - Anon Julie -1

    “I will flob down your throat then kill you”

    2023-11-01T11:58:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Julie, 61, is store manager for H&M, from Hampshire. Julie experiences customer abuse every day and feels concerned for the safety of their team. 

  • VMP - Kate-7

    “You’re an idiot who can’t do your job”

    2022-11-07T13:40:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Fashion retail assistant Kate experiences customer abuse on a daily basis which is having a detrimental impact on Kate’s mental health and making life miserable. Let’s respect retail and stop the intolerance epidemic.

  • VMP - David-12

    “We’ll come back for you”

    2022-11-07T13:50:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Store manager David has been punched and threatened by customers which weighs down on David’s mental health, upsets David’s family and impacts colleagues. Let’s respect retail and stop the intolerance epidemic.

  • VMP - Jo-14

    “I hope you get cancer and die”

    2022-11-07T13:42:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Convenience store team leader Jo goes to work each day in fear of being threatened and verbally abused. Violence and store abuse is on the rise. Let’s respect retail and stop the intolerance epidemic.

  • VMP - Ian Morrison-8DARK BG

    “Why don’t you get a proper job?”

    2022-11-07T13:47:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Delivery driver Ian regularly experiences verbal and physical abuse from customers which is making his role dangerous. Let’s respect retail and stop the intolerance epidemic.

  • jane--8

    “You’re useless”

    2022-11-07T13:44:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Checkout supervisor Jane has been threatened by customers and called names, causing Jane to feel anxious going to work. Let’s respect retail and stop the intolerance epidemic.

  • Shopping bag_sized for web (1)

    Respect retail 2023

    2023-11-27T11:55:00+00:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    90% of retail workers told us that they have experienced abuse from customers. These are their stories.

  • AdobeStock_410418118

    How to stay safe when facing customer abuse


    Whether you’re a manager or a retail worker, knowing how to respond when encountering an abusive customer could help to keep yourself, your colleagues and your customers safer.

  • Retail worker checking stock in a clothes shop

    Training course: physical and emotional safety in retail


    This course focuses on the increase in challenging situations in store, building participants knowledge of how to maintain physical and emotional safety of colleagues working in the retail sector.

  • Anti-harrassment-image-3-2

    Retailers against harassment campaign


    We’ve joined forces with Foot Anstey’s retail and consumer team on an initiative to support retailers in their efforts to foster safer working environments for their employees.

  • How-to-stay-safe-in-store

    Take five: how to stay safe in store

    2022-10-05T13:55:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    Verbal abuse from customers can be frightening and stressful. Cliff Lee, director of wellbeing services at the Retail Trust, explains how to stay safe and look out for your colleagues.

  • Cashier loading customers shopping into bag

    Seven ways to stay safe in store

    2022-10-27T08:07:00+01:00Exclusive content from the Retail Trust

    As the Retail Trust launches respect retail, our campaign to tackle the intolerance epidemic and protect retail workers from abusive customers, here’s how colleagues can stay safe.