Staff from well-known retailers such as Tesco, H&M, Co-op and John Lewis are raising their voices against a concerning surge in assaults and theft, according to a report by the Retail Trust, a charity advocating for UK retail workers.

The study, released as part of the Retail Trust’s respect retail campaign during the annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, exposes an alarming increase in in-store crime, leaving employees feeling unsafe and anxious, with many contemplating leaving the industry.

Alarming statistics unveiled by the Retail Trust’s survey

The Retail Trust surveyed more than 1,600 retail workers, uncovering distressing findings:

  • Weekly abuse: Two in five retail workers (41%) experience verbal or physical abuse every week, including shouting, spitting, threats, or physical violence. Almost half (47%) feel unsafe at work.
  • Shoplifting confrontations: 64% of respondents believe confronting shoplifters is a trigger for abuse and incidents have escalated over the past two years. 56% attribute the rise to the increasing cost of living, leading frustrated shoppers to target retail staff.
  • Call for stricter penalties: A significant majority (67%) of retail workers advocate for stricter penalties against customers who abuse them and one-third (33%) believe the police should take more decisive action.

Urgent call for action and support

The Retail Trust emphasises the need for incidents to be reported, as a quarter (24%) of respondents admit to not reporting abuse.

The charity’s respect retail campaign, endorsed by major retailers such as Co-op, BP and Ann Summers, urges shoppers to treat retail staff with respect, especially during the upcoming busy shopping season.

Widespread impact on retail workers

The survey highlights the widespread abuse faced by retail workers:

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  • High incidence of abuse: Nine in ten retail workers have encountered abuse, with 84% subjected to shouting, a third threatened with violence, 14% physically assaulted and 10% spat on.
  • Impact on well-being: 66% of respondents report feeling stressed or anxious due to these incidents and 42% are contemplating leaving their jobs or the retail sector.
  • Escalating incidents: The rate of abuse has risen compared to the previous year, with 41% experiencing it weekly, up from 34% last year.

Public poll reflects customer behaviour

A YouGov poll commissioned by the Retail Trust supports the rising intolerance trend, with 68% of shoppers admitting to getting annoyed with service workers. Of these, 20% confessed to raising their voice or losing their temper.

Personal testimonies illustrate the severity

Retail workers shared harrowing experiences, including physical violence and verbal threats:

  • Punched in the face: A 34-year-old customer advisor recounts being punched in the face by a customer, leading to panic attacks and a consideration to leave the retail industry.
  • Attacked by a shoplifter: Moses, a 42-year-old department store manager, faced physical altercations weekly, emphasising the escalation in incidents.
  • Part of the job: Julie, a 61-year-old store manager, describes the daily havoc caused by groups of teens and recounts threats and intimidation she faces regularly.

Urgent need for action

Retail Trust CEO Chris Brook Carter expresses grave concern, citing daily reports of abuse.

Industry leaders, including Paul Gerrard of Co-op and Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium, call for stricter laws and police intervention.

Union support and advocacy

Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis highlights the ongoing campaign for respect and the need to report abuse.

Holly Laing, a TikTok influencer and former retail worker, shares her experiences and supports the Retail Trust’s campaign to change attitudes towards retail workers.

In a nutshell, the Retail Trust urges a collective effort to address the escalating issue of abuse against retail workers, emphasising the importance of reporting incidents and fostering a culture of respect in the retail sector.