March 27, 2024

Retail staff under pressure

In this video a Tesco worker makes accusations the customer hasn’t paid for their items. The customer records the interaction to then be assaulted by the Tesco employee.

Shoplifting is a persistent and growing problem for UK retailers. According to the British Retail Consortium’s annual retail crime survey, shoplifting incidents account for the most significant proportion of crimes against retailers.

It’s essential for retail staff to handle suspected theft appropriately to protect the business, ensure their safety, and avoid potential legal issues such as false arrest.

What is the procedure when retail staff suspect someone of shoplifting

When a member of staff suspects someone of theft, it’s crucial to follow the S.C.O.N.E. acronym:

Search – has the customer had the opportunity to select an item?

Concealment – has the customer concealed the item?

Observation – has the customer been under constant observation since concealing the item?

Non-Payment – has the customer passed all points of payment?

Exit – has the customer exited the store or made an attempt to?

False arrest refers to the unlawful restraint of a person’s freedom of movement. In the context of suspected shoplifting, a false arrest could occur if a member of staff detains someone based on suspicion alone without sufficient evidence. This could lead to legal repercussions for the business.

To prevent false arrests, it’s crucial that staff are trained to gather sufficient evidence before making an accusation. This includes following the S.C.O.N.E. procedure and ensuring that their observations meet all these criteria before approaching the suspected individual.

In situations where it becomes necessary to approach a suspected shoplifter, training in conflict management is vital. This kind of training can equip staff with the skills necessary to de-escalate the situation, communicate effectively, and protect their safety and the safety of others.

Can retail staff make a person stop recording an interaction?

In the United Kingdom, the laws around recording conversations are governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the Data Protection Act 2018. These laws generally allow individuals to record their own conversations without the consent of the other parties involved, as long as the recording is for their own use. This would, in theory, extend to a customer recording their interaction with a member of staff in a retail store using their smartphone.

If the customer intends to use the recording in a way that goes beyond their personal use, for instance, to share it publicly or use it in a court case, they might need to obtain the consent of the individuals being recorded.

As for whether a member of staff can order the customer to stop recording, this becomes a more complex issue.

In a private establishment such as a retail store, the owner or operator can set rules for behaviour on the premises. If a rule prohibiting recording is in place and clearly communicated, the staff might have the right to ask a customer to stop recording.

However, staff members do not generally have the right to confiscate personal property, such as a customer’s smartphone, even if it’s being used to violate store rules. If a customer is violating store rules or causing a disturbance, the appropriate response would typically be to ask the customer to leave the premises, rather than attempting to seize their property.

Can retail staff use physical force to make a customer comply with their instructions? In some cases, physical intervention may be necessary. However, this should always be the last resort. Staff should be trained to understand when physical intervention is necessary and how to apply it safely and legally.

Can staff in UK retail use physical force to make a customer comply with their requests?

Under UK law, the use of physical force by retail staff is a sensitive issue and should be considered a last resort. The Criminal Law Act 1967 allows for the use of “reasonable force” when making a citizen’s arrest or when preventing a crime. However, what constitutes “reasonable force” is not explicitly defined and is dependent on the circumstances.

In the case of Morrison v Marks & Spencer (2002), the court ruled that the store detective had used reasonable force under the circumstances when he detained a shoplifter who had resisted arrest and tried to escape. However, it’s important to note that the interpretation of “reasonable force” can vary from case to case.

In general, staff are advised to avoid physical confrontation if possible due to the potential legal and safety risks involved. Instead, staff should focus on gathering evidence, observing the suspect, and contacting the police if necessary. Regardless, any intervention should be carried out by trained personnel who know how to handle such situations appropriately and lawfully.

In UK law, retail staff generally do not have the right to physically remove a smartphone being used to record an interaction in the store. As mentioned above, staff members do not typically have the right to confiscate personal property, even if it’s being used to violate store rules. Attempting to physically remove a customer’s smartphone could potentially lead to legal repercussions, such as accusations of assault or theft.

If a customer is violating store rules or causing a disturbance, the appropriate response would typically be to ask the customer to leave the premises.

Always remember that the use of force could potentially lead to accusations of assault or false imprisonment, and the potential costs, both legally and reputationally, can be significant.

Therefore, it’s crucial to have clear policies in place, provide regular training for staff, and always adhere to the legal guidelines.

Do UK customers enjoy using self-checkout machines?

Self-checkout systems have become increasingly common in UK supermarkets and other retail stores. Based on various news reports and consumer surveys, customer reactions to this technology seem to be mixed.

Many customers appreciate the convenience and speed that self-checkout provides. For example, a 2019 survey conducted by SOTI, a mobile and IoT device management solutions provider, found that 67% of UK shoppers prefer to use self-checkout over traditional cashier-assisted checkout lanes. Participants in the survey cited speed and convenience as the primary reasons for their preference.

However, there have been some reported issues with self-checkout systems. For instance, a 2019 BBC news report highlighted a few common complaints from shoppers, including difficulties with the technology and frustration when the machines malfunction.

One particular issue that has emerged is related to what’s commonly referred to as “unexpected item in the bagging area” alerts. These alerts occur when the system detects a discrepancy between the items scanned by the customer and the weight of the items in the bagging area. This can cause delays and frustration for customers, especially if a staff member needs to intervene and check the items.

In terms of honesty during self-checkout, a 2019 study by found that over 20% of UK shoppers admitted to stealing at least one item when using self-checkout lanes. This has led to some stores increasing staff monitoring of self-checkout areas, which can sometimes lead to confrontations with customers.

For instance, in 2020, The Guardian reported a case where a customer was accused of theft after a self-checkout machine failed to register a scanned item. This led to a heated exchange and the customer being banned from the store.

Therefore, while self-checkout systems can offer benefits for both retailers and customers, it’s clear that there are ongoing challenges that need to be addressed. Retailers must strike a balance between offering convenience and ensuring that the technology is user-friendly and robust enough to prevent theft and other issues.

What are effective conflict management strategies when dealing with retail shoplifting problems?

Effective conflict management strategies in a retail environment where shoplifting is a significant problem could include the following:

1. Proactive communication

One of the first steps in managing conflict is proactive communication. By clearly communicating store policies on shoplifting to all customers, you establish the boundaries and expectations upfront. This can be done through signage, announcements, or during interactions with customers. It not only makes rules clear to potential shoplifters but can also act as a deterrent.

2. Descalation techniques

Training staff in deescalation techniques can be invaluable in preventing tense situations from escalating. These techniques can include speaking in a calm and steady voice, maintaining a non-threatening body language, and actively listening to the person’s concerns. By addressing the situation calmly and respectfully, it can help to diffuse the tension and lead to a more peaceful resolution.

3. Customer service

Excellent customer service plays a crucial role in deterring shoplifting. Staff should be trained to acknowledge every customer who enters the store, as potential shoplifters are less likely to steal if they know they are being watched. This doesn’t mean staff has to be intrusive; a simple greeting or offer to help can be enough to deter potential theft.

4. Non-confrontational approach

If a staff member suspects a customer of shoplifting, they should be trained to approach them in a non-accusatory manner. Instead of outright accusing them, staff can ask if the customer needs help or remind them of store policies. This approach avoids escalating the situation and can often result in the customer either putting the item back or paying for it.

5. Call for assistance

If a situation becomes too difficult for a staff member to handle alone, they should call for assistance. This could involve contacting a manager, a security officer, or, in extreme cases, the police. It’s important to remember that the safety of staff and other customers is paramount, and getting additional support can help ensure everyone’s safety.

6. Post incident reporting

After a shoplifting incident has occurred, it’s important that staff are trained to document the event accurately and in detail. Accurate reporting can help the store identify trends, improve policies, and provide crucial information for law enforcement if necessary. It can also be useful in training new staff about the types of situations they may encounter and how to respond.

Remember, the key to effective conflict management is to always prioritize the safety of staff and customers. By implementing these strategies, you can help create a safer and more secure retail environment.

Reputational risk or viral encounters

The reputational risk to major retailers when their staff are recorded being unprofessional, abusive, or threatening to customers can be substantial. In today’s digital age, footage can be shared and go viral within minutes, reaching a worldwide audience. This can lead to widespread criticism and calls for boycotts, damaging the company’s brand image and leading to a loss of customer trust and loyalty.

In the UK, one notable case that highlights this risk is the 2015 incident involving a Sports Direct employee in Wales who was recorded refusing to speak Welsh with a customer. The video went viral and caused a public outcry, leading to significant reputational damage for the company.

This incident serves as a reminder that unprofessional behaviour by staff can lead to a loss of goodwill and business, particularly in communities where the company operates.

Another example is the 2018 case of a Ryanair passenger who was recorded making racist comments towards another passenger. Despite the abusive passenger not being a staff member, the incident caused significant reputational damage to the airline due to the perceived lack of adequate response from the cabin crew.

The video received widespread media attention, and Ryanair faced criticism for its handling of the situation.

These examples underline the importance of staff training in professionalism and conflict resolution, as well as the need for clear policies on how to handle such incidents. Businesses must understand and accept the potential consequences of negative customer interactions, especially in a world where these interactions can be recorded and shared with a global audience in real time.

Retail theft is a complex issue, and managing it effectively requires a comprehensive approach that includes proper staff training, adherence to legal guidelines, and a clear understanding of the rights of the suspected individual.

A conflict management training programme would consider the following:

  • Develop interactive training modules that simulate real-life situations of anti-social behaviour and retail theft, helping staff understand how to handle such instances.
  • Implement role-play exercises during training sessions where staff can practice dealing with customer complaints and difficult situations.
  • Invite law enforcement officers or legal experts to conduct workshops on the legal aspects of dealing with retail theft, educating staff on what actions are permissible under law.
  • Incorporate emotional intelligence training, focusing on empathy, patience, and understanding, which can be beneficial in managing customer complaints and anti-social behaviour.
  • Provide conflict resolution training to help staff deescalate situations and resolve issues peacefully without resorting to physical force.
  • Develop a clear, company-wide protocol for dealing with suspected theft, ensuring that all employees know the steps to take when they suspect a customer of shoplifting.
  • Train staff on the use of technology such as CCTV and security tagging systems to deter and identify theft.
  • Conduct regular refresher courses to ensure that staff are up-to-date with the company’s policies and best practices regarding anti-social behaviour, theft, and customer complaints.
  • Offer training on how to professionally handle instances where they are being recorded by customers, including understanding their rights and responsibilities in such scenarios.
  • Introduce a feedback system where staff can share their experiences and challenges in dealing with difficult situations, which can be used to improve training programs.

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George Cotter

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