Whilst in most cases, the past 12 months it has brought out the best in people, it has also triggered concerning behaviour among consumers. Abusive incidents towards retail workers doubled early on in the pandemic, according to research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) estimates there have been 50,000 incidents of violence against shopworkers since the start of the UK’s first lockdown, one quarter of which resulted in injury.
The potential to have to manage aggression as part of the job – and the risk of verbal or physical assault – is so culturally accepted that it has been legislated against in Scotland, under The Protection of Workers Bill which passed earlier this year. Scotland’s new law makes it a specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail workers, but it does not do anything to prevent the aggression from occurring in the first place.
Alasdair Field is the CEO of body-worn video provider, Reveal, says that this lack of prevention is why retailers up and down the UK, including familiar high street names such as Matalan and JD Sports, are focusing on preventative action and deploying a combination of technology and human intervention to make life easier for their customer-facing staff.
“Recent developments in technology have helped organisations take big strides forward in their mission to protect their teams, none more so than the field of body worn camera technology,” says Field, pointing to their use among checkout and click-and-collect staff as well as customer support team members.
Studies show that the presence of cameras provides support, reassurance and confidence to both staff and the public, and are proven to increase safety by de-escalating confrontational situations and limiting the use of force.
But, says Field, this is not just about staff safety – there’s a bottom-line argument to be made for harnessing these sorts of technologies too: “We’ve all witnessed delays in shop queues whilst a customer decides to pursue their cause in unreasonable terms in the name of ‘customer service’.
“It occupies staff time; it holds up other customers and it’s an awkward and uncomfortable experience for all concerned. The use of body worn cameras reduce complaints because once customers know they’re being filmed, they’re much less likely to behave aggressively. Staff can get on with their jobs, queues move more efficiently, and productivity is improved throughout the store.
Not only that, he adds, but in the unfortunate event that an altercation does occur, the cameras can record accurately what happened, leaving no doubt as to what each party said and did – vital evidence should the new retail workers law be put to use.
Government measures to keep everyone safe raised tensions, with the latest guidance being met with confusion and frustration among some shoppers. Staff have, says Field, been trained to manage the situation and reduce the risk of any tension. By complementing that training with body worn technology, retailers can have greater confidence that conflicts with customers who resist mask-wearing, distancing or store capacity limits can be appropriately managed.
“People should be able to go to work without the fear of being abused or assaulted, and ultimately it is employers, not the courts, that are responsible for protecting their staff,” he adds.
We are seeing leading retail employers stepping up, no longer dismissing incidents as ‘business crimes’ or ‘part of the job’, but proactively putting measures in place, including harnessing body worn cameras, to prevent crime against their workers.”
This feature was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly