The customer is always right, except for when they’re not

By Lauren Muttram, Feb. 23, 2021

Shocked, I stood in the middle of my workplace when a womanwho I kindly asked to follow company and CDC health guidelines by wearing her mask over her nose —shouted at me.   

“What part of no don’t you understand?” she yelled. “Are you mentally unstable?”  

It is no secret retail workers all over the United States deal with numerous types of customers, varying from compassionate and friendly to impatient and ill-mannered. As stores nationwide enforce strict regulations and adapt to the everchanging health guidelines, hundreds of videos have surfaced of retail and shop workers being treated inhumanely for simply doing their jobs.  

The stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic has not only heightened the abuse thrown at retail workers but intensified the tension and isolation seen in shoppers. The stress, paired with long wait times, reduced store capacities and in-store safety protocols, have often brought out the worst in shoppers, influencing them to take their frustrations out on workers.   

According to 2018 figures published by the U.S. Census Bureau, over 9.8 million people work in some form of retail job. These individuals are not limited to high school students working a first job, but college students working to pay off their tuition, single mothers, fathers and even retired police officers — the list goes on 

Personally, some of the most genuine and hardworking people I have had the pleasure of meeting have been through my job as a retail worker.  

If retail workers are just like other dedicated, hardworking people who are working to make a sustainable living and achieve their goals, why is it that some shoppers feel they are entitled to treat them poorly?  

Abuse has been normalized between shopper and worker, and the infamous “the customer is always right” ideology has granted little to no repercussions for individuals mistreating workers who are only there to make the shopping experience enjoyable.    

Though I find most shoppers to be compassionate to workers, I have experienced product thrown in my face because a customer expects me to hold it for them, items dropped at my feet because the shopper tells me they don’t want it anymore and offensive remarks about my character and work ethic 

Retail mistreatment is a worldwide issue.  

In the United Kingdom, The Association of Convenience Stores reported 83% of people who work in stores have experienced or been subjected to verbal abuse from customers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

To further investigate the issue, the ACS evaluated the experiences of their over 3 million store workers. Since March 14, 2020, an astonishing 3,500 reports of verbal abuse or assault toward workers occurred every day.  

Next time you are picking up a new pair of jeans from the mall or even ordering your daily coffee from Starbucks, give retail and shop workers the respect and acknowledgment they deserve. Know you may be speaking with a mother, a brother, a graduate student, or even a veteran.    

And remember, they are just as human as you are. 

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