Retailers Promote Civility

Amid stories of consumers behaving badly, nonprofits aim to help businesses support frontline employees.

June 15, 2021

Be Kind Sign

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The overall U.S. full vaccination rate is 43.4%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as many people return to shopping, dining, traveling and visiting friends, some need reminding of basic rules of civility, according to CNBC.

Airline passengers have attacked flight attendants, and sports fans have assaulted professional athletes, while retail workers nationwide have been subjected to attacks as people begin to interact with one another again. Yesterday in Dekalb County, Ga., a man fatally shot a grocery store cashier after what police said was a dispute over a face mask, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Retailers are seeing an alarming rise in altercations in-store, creating safety concerns for their employees, said Emily May, executive director Hollaback!, a nonprofit that focuses on harassment prevention. “Frontline workers are more vulnerable than ever,” she said.

Whether it’s aggressive driving or tempers on full display in restaurants or gas stations, the bad behavior is caused by a variety of factors, said Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at the University of Santa Clara. “We’ve got a tsunami of mental health issues out there, with anxiety and depression.”

He noted that people are juggling multiple stressors: the pandemic, death, illness, job loss, homeschooling, financial problems, isolation and other challenges. That frustration can lead to aggression.

In response, a dozen retailers, including Gap, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sephora, are collaborating with Open to All, a nonprofit that campaigns to build a thriving and inclusive nation. As part of the campaign, participating retailers will have access to a toolkit and other resources to support frontline workers.

“We haven’t been in crowds; we haven’t negotiated spaces with a lot of other people for quite a while,” Calla Devlin Rongerude, Open to All director, told CNBC. “I think we’re out of practice with how to be human with each other.”

NACS Magazine explored advice for retail staff who encounter agitated customers in “Angry Words” in the September 2020 issue.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.