Aisle Rage:It Starts on the Frontlines

magine yourself as the store manager of a major convenience store or supermarket chain. As you are busily building a new display, you notice two customers down an aisle that are in really close proximity to each other. The customers exchange sneers and you can feel the tension between them. One of the customers bumps the other one and you think to yourself, "that was rude." Before you can say or do anything, the situation explodes into a violent confrontation and the two customers are shoving each other.

Merchandise is flying in every direction as the two fight it out in the middle of your store. Should I intervene? Can I physically remove these customers from the store? Should I call for help? These are all questions running through your head as you witness the brawl. Perhaps it would be a good time to have a risk management plan in place for such an incident is the final thought that goes through your head as you look down the aisle that has been destroyed because of aisle rage.

Aisle rage can be classified into two distinct interactions: customer to customer and or customer to employee rage. The causes of aisle rage are similar to road rage incidents. An action is interpreted as a personal assault and is reacted upon with irrationality and aggressiveness. We live in an era where humans are constantly under pressure and time constraints. This type of aggressive behavior is becoming more prevalent. The human condition is compounded by the fact that we are moving towards more of a self-serve environment. Customers are feeling more helpless in retail settings, and attitudes towards customer service are decaying. As we progress towards a society where there is no shock value, violent outbursts towards other customers and employees are more prevalent.

Aisle rage incidents are not accurately tracked by retailers or police so there are not many statistics available, but in a recent nationwide survey 50% of drivers said that if they were subject to aggressive behavior while on the road, they would respond with aggressive behavior suggesting that violent actions can easily be provoked.

One recent incident at a Super Stop & Shop in Somers, New York, illustrates the typical aisle rage incident. Last July, a 72-year-old woman was run over by another customer’s shopping cart at this particular chain of supermarkets. As she was in the checkout line paying for her order by debit, James Curcio of Dutchess County became so enraged because she was taking too long entering her debit card information into the pin pad. Curcio bumped her once with his cart and then the woman said something to him which angered him and he then proceed to hit her twice with his cart knocking her to the ground. He then fled the store with $85 worth of groceries.

The woman was treated at hospital and later released and Curcio was eventually apprehended when clerks at the store wrote down his license plate number. New York State Police charged him with 2nd degree assault, a felony, and petty larceny, for the theft of the groceries. The level of violence and the circumstances around it lead to the higher charge of 2nd degree assault indicating that authorities want to deal with these issues as harshly as possible.

 

Prepare Through Training
This situation is a great example of a customer to customer rage incident. Other types of rage can include customer to employee, or even employee to employee rage. Whatever type of incident is occurring, all must be dealt with promptly. Better yet, prevention through education and sensitivity training is the best solution for all rage episodes. There are many things employers can do early on in associate training to help prevent and diffuse such situations.

The building block is to establish an atmosphere where customers are the most important aspect of your organization. Training employees to be good listeners is probably the most important proactive tool for preventing aisle rage incidents. As well, it is imperative to teach new and existing associates that they should not take things personally. Associates should also be aware of the potential causes of aisle rage. It’s also important that associates engage customers. Engaging customers is the quickest way to disarm negative thoughts that might exist upon entry into a store.

There are many variables that can cause rage episodes, but associates that are sensitive and understand the causes of aisle rage can prevent most situations from escalating out of control. The common aspect between most rage incidents is that the employee did something (or didn’t do anything in some cases) and this has a negative result. So we turn to the front line associate as a means to help prevent, or at the very least, diffuse such situations.

 

Early Intervention
Most potential situations can be countered as soon as the customer walks into the store. A friendly greeting and a sincere smile will usually disarm even the most hostile customer. During an altercation, the sales associate or manager should be sensitive to the customer’s needs and practice active listening skills. If it is a customer to employee interaction, the supervisor must intervene and remove the employee from the situation. The manager must do their best to listen and diffuse the problem at the store level. If the situation is between two customers, an associate or supervisor must intervene, to separate the customers and handle each individually.

Why is shopping cart rage a problem? While legal and liability issues are important, equally vital is the business impact. Not only will the individuals involved leave the store with a bad taste in their mouths, but all the potential witnesses will also develop negative thoughts about the store. It is crucial to have a risk management procedure in place and to train associates and managers to specifically handle such situations. Assign one risk management ‘expert’ per shift. Training a handful of associates on the perils and solutions for shopping cart rage would ensure that any incidents are handled professionally and efficiently. Obviously customer and employee safety is paramount in any situation. Having a well trained staff can diffuse potential problems, as well as contain and resolve negative interactions quickly and effectively.

The implications and impact of aisle rage are massive. No storeowner, operator or manager wants an ugly incident to occur in their store. Aside from damaged property and legal liability, the bottom line suffers from these types of risk incidents. From a legal standpoint, stores and chains can be sued by the victims and even the perpetrators of aisle rage. Individual employees can also be sued if they handle the situation incorrectly or outside of legal bounds. Training staff to be sensitive to customers’ needs will diffuse any potential altercation. Having a number of associates specifically trained in the handling of such situations will ensure that any negative episode is handled quickly and quietly and with minimal intrusion on daily operations.

The only way to prevent and contain aisle rage is by providing outstanding customer service. This exemplary service must occur from the time the customer walks in the door and continue until they leave your business. Prevention and efficient handling of aisle rage incidents will help drive any retailer’s bottom line in the long term.

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. He can be reached at doron@gocaptus.com or 416.587.9995.

css.php