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.
“I always try to be cheerful because it’s a bookshop, one of the most wonderful places in the world, but sometimes the abuse pulls all the joy out of my day.
“A few years ago, if somebody started kicking off in the queue, people would step in. They’re not doing that now because people’s behaviour can go from one extreme to another very quickly. I’ve had people throw books across the till at me.
“The other day, a lady came in and marched to the front of the queue while I was serving another customer. I said, ‘I’m sorry but that lady is first.’ She looked up and said ‘what, you want me to queue?’ I was like ‘yes please’ and she said, ‘I don’t have time for that’ and she flung the postcards at me. She came back later, never said sorry and I just had to pick up the postcards she threw at me and sell them to her.
“The worst incident was during the pandemic; we had a skeleton staff because most were on furlough so only two of us were in store and the café upstairs was closed. I had gone to the toilet, and we’d blocked off the toilets because only one person was allowed to use them at a time, everything had to be wiped down and sanitised and the café was closed, so the toilets were closed to customers.
“Despite the ‘staff only’ sign, I was on the toilet when I heard the door open, so I called out ‘I’m in here’ but somebody continued to walk into the next cubicle. I jumped up and opened the door and a lady in her 60s, laden down with shopping bags was trying to go into the toilet. I said, ‘I’m really sorry, you’re not allowed to use these toilets but there are some customer toilets in the shopping centre next door.’ She refused to leave, it’s a very small space and she came right up into my face and said she was going to thump me. I was pressed up against the sink and the hand drier saying ‘please can you just leave’ and she was saying ‘I want your name, tell me your name.’
“She kept saying she was going to thump me, and I was blocked into this tiny toilet. When I finally managed to get out of there and run down the stairs to my manager, the customer instantly complained that I was being rude and, despite her saying she was desperate for the toilet, she stayed for ten minutes to argue with my manager about how horrible I was. My manager apologised to her and told me to calm down in the back. She eventually went, but I was terrified to go back into those toilets afterwards.
“People are generally unhappy and looking to pick on someone. Because you work in retail, you’re seen as fair game.
“I think during lockdown, people got so used to being on social media and things you wouldn’t normally dream of saying are filtering through to everyday life. Retailers back down because they are terrified of getting complaints or bad reviews and customers know this. I’ve had people say to me ‘the customer is always right’ but it doesn’t mean they can be abusive.
“Stores need a united zero-tolerance policy for abuse and police need to take this seriously. You almost get used to the constant disrespect, but the threats of violence get to you. People forget they are speaking to a human being.”
Would you put up with this?