When The Customer Stops Being Right

We’ve all heard the saying “the customer is always right” – a mantra passed around in retail to remind staff of their main goal: keep the customer happy.


Happy customer = more sales = more money.


Often called “character building”, staff bend over backwards trying to please customers, and consequently, their employers.


It’s no secret that customers can be demanding at times, however, for those from ethnic minority backgrounds, the line between rude and racist customers is often crossed.



Speaking to several staff members from respective retail stores, those with a foreign accent all reported some form of racist behavior from customers, ranging from “dirty looks” to being told they were “unwelcome in this country”. Staff members ‘of colour’ also reported discriminatory behaviour towards them, such as being asked to be served by a white staff member, and being treated as though they weren’t as capable of doing their work as some of their colleagues.


What’s more shocking is less than 20% reported any intervening from their supervisors, managers or security to combat these abusive customers and/or remove them from the store.


A further 10% added that they’re often told by managers to “just ignore” discriminatory comments, showing an apparent disregard for their staff’s wellbeing, in favour of keeping the customer happy.


When reaching out to various retail chains to find out their policy on staff abuse tolerance, none of them commented on the issue.


Supermarket giant Morrisons did respond, only to claim they were “unable to send this information”, instead providing a link to the Morrisons Corporate Responsibility page, which also had no information about the treatment of staff in regard to abuse tolerance policies.



The 2015 Race at Work Survey found that 30% of those surveyed (24,457 employees) had either witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace. 16% of ethnic minority staff said they had been on the receiving end of this racist behaviour.



Statistics aside, these are real people facing this kind of unfair, prejudiced treatment. Though it’s clearly happening in large numbers, each individual will mostly likely be dealing with it alone.



Listen below to a 24 year old, British-born retail employee of Bengali descent talk about some of the shocking encounters she’s had with racist customers, and how this has become somewhat normalised due to its frequent occurrence.


(Staff and company identities have been kept anonymous for confidentiality purposes.)



Divya Soni

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