‘It’s just part of the job’: changing the dialogue about retail

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Retail; the UK’s largest private sector employer, the catalyst for one-third of all consumer spending in the UK and a sector which everyone interacts with on a daily basis.

The retail sector is of undeniable economic importance yet those who dedicate their life to serving Britain’s shoppers are treated with disdain and disrespect by so many. In 2019, 2.9 million of the UK workforce were employed in a retail setting, and according to the retail workers union USDAW, over two-thirds of retail workers face verbal abuse every day.

Retail is vital, yet those simply trying to do their jobs are faced with numerous stereotypes and aggressions, all based at the very heart of a toxic societal belief towards retail staff.

How many times have you heard ‘oh they just work in a shop’ or ‘it’s just part of their job to put up with it’?  Beliefs like these are dangerous to our societal framework, everyone has a right to be respected for the work they do, and everyone’s work holds an equal value in society. To be belittled simply because of the work you choose to do is unacceptable, and it all leads back to a toxic culture perpetuated by retailers and the public.

I’ve worked in retail for four years, in that time I’ve worked for some of the UK’s most recognisable brands and I’ve loved every minute of it. Working in retail brings a buzz like no other; connecting with customers on the shop floor and making moments special for them truly makes my job fun. However, whilst I may hold such a positive view of my job, others perhaps do not.

Shop workers are so often seen as stupid, working in a store simply because life left them no viable option. This is categorically untrue, some of the wisest and most caring, intelligent people I know I have met through my time in retail.

Retail is a viable and exciting career option, chosen by so many for the dynamic nature of work it offers. Violence, threats and abuse against any worker is unacceptable, yet it still continues to exist and thrive in the retail sector.

You don’t support retail workers; you use them

We live in a world where the customer is always right. Retailers will, quite rightly wish to encourage repeat business and build a loyal customer base, but at what cost to staff? We are trained to solve your problems and assist you when you need it; we are less likely to want to help if we are treated with blatant disrespect. Respect your retail staff and we will be inclined to give you the best possible service.

I want to change the public perception and social attitudes surrounding what is acceptable when discussing retail, you wouldn’t dismiss a doctor or a nurse as quickly as you would someone who works in Asda, yet it so often happens. Over the Covid-19 pandemic it was quick to see where the public allegiance lies; the NHS does an amazing job and was quite rightly celebrated. Yet supermarket staff who were working with little PPE, limited stock and unprecedented demand continued to go to work every day with no rousing public support, just abuse and from impatient and unreasonable customers.

You don’t support retail workers; you use them. Too often they are viewed as somewhat of a disposable commodity; someone to shout at and leave.

The purpose of this article is to provoke thought about how you treat retail/service staff and treat them with the respect they deserve when carrying out their role, as you would other professionals. Where you work does not determine your professionalism. Change your attitude towards retail workers, and protect a vital, yet so often forgotten sector of the UK economy. You would notice if retail ceased to exist, think about how you can protect its longevity.

For more information regarding the abuse faced by retail staff daily, please see the 2019 report by the Home Office.

Image: Patrick Tomasso via Flickr

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