Retail staff are being spat and sworn at, pushed, shoved, physically threatened and racially abused amid a spike in reports of aggressive customer following the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Countdown has also spoken out about in-store violence after four people were stabbed at its Dunedin Cumberland store on May 1. The attack left two staff critically injured and another two people needed surgery.
Countdown's health and safety general manager Kiri Hannifin said its team members had been subjected to "more aggression, conflict and abuse than we've ever experienced in our business".
"Our people show up to look after our customers and serve communities and the abuse they face is upsetting and frankly unacceptable.
"Safety and wellbeing was something we talk about in our business every day, and we'll continue to do so. We've also raised the escalating aggression we're seeing with police at a national level."
Security guards were one of the factors Countdown looked at as part of its safety measures.
She said counsellors "were working closely with our Dunedin Central team members and we will continue to provide support".
"We want to respect the privacy of our injured team members but can share that they're both recovering well."
A man with name suppression has been charged with four counts of attempted murder.
He remains in custody and is due to appear again in court next month.
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said in-store violence and aggression had been on the rise for years but the situation had worsened significantly since the Covid-19 lockdown last year.
Another business leader said customer-facing staff were bearing the brunt of increased stress levels as people grappled with Covid-related uncertainties around housing costs and job security.
Harford said the behaviour of some customers was "not acceptable".
"Most customers are great to deal with but there is a growing number who are intolerant, intimidating and threatening. Staff are often being spat at, and physically threatened and there is a significant element of racist abuse levelled at many people who work in retail."
Everyone who works in retail had the right to go to work and feel safe every day, free from racism or any other kind of abuse and free from threats of violence, he said.
"If staff are threatened, we advise retailers to call the police."
A number of retailers had signed a pledge against racism, he said which was designed to proactively address racism and other forms of abuse at work.
Z Energy, The Warehouse Group, Foodstuffs, Mitre 10 and Countdown were just some of the corporate businesses who had pledged support.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said Covid-19 had raised stress levels across the board and retail staff were bearing the brunt of it.
"They're stressed from Covid-related uncertainties, housing, money, workloads and family issues. People are generally exhausted after a prolonged period of uncertainty.
"Customer-facing staff have had to quickly learn to deal with short-tempered customers. This is across a lot of industries.
"A few counsellors and psychologists have told me there are a lot of exhausted, anxious and frustrated people out there," he said.
"Covid will have a deep and silent impact on people's wellbeing from all socio-economic backgrounds. Their exhaustion has reduced their resilience to what were previously everyday inconveniences."
Employers would need to be conscious of the impact of these added pressures on staff wellbeing, he said.
"Workplaces will need to ensure their health and safety processes reflect these new hidden psychological risks."
Rotorua Lakes councillor and Whanau Ora leader Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said in an opinion column supermarket and service station workers had told her about being verbally abused, sworn at and even pushed and shoved.
"We need to stop being mean and nasty."
In her view, the attacks and outbursts of anger were calculated in who they targeted.
"They restrict their shouting and haranguing to those who don't have the power to retaliate."
Fellow Rotorua Lakes councillor and dairy owner Raj Kumar cautioned against letting the actions of a minority undermine the values of New Zealand and did not want isolated incidents to be blown out of proportion.
"We come to New Zealand because it's a wonderful place," Kumar said.
"The ignorant ones will always say, 'Go back to India'.
"They are the ones who probably disrespect their own peers, and family."
Kumar had experienced racism himself but said it was not a daily occurrence.
"It does happen. It happens everywhere, not just in New Zealand ... some people are looking for a fight. We have to be smarter and more resilient."
Greerton Lotto owner Belinda Sands said they were fortunate to not get a lot of abusive customers.
However, she had held someone to account at the supermarket who belittled the young checkout operator because they ran out of something on special.
"He just unleashed on the girl at the till. I said to him - 'hey you can't speak to people like that. Imagine she was your granddaughter and someone did that to her'.
"I realise life gets frustrating - and I know that I've been cranky dealing with people too. But just to take a breath and think about where this problem is in relation to other issues. Sometimes that's enough to let the initial rage dissipate."
Hammon Diamond Jeweller owner Julie Hammon said she had not personally experienced customer abuse but had witnessed it at other shops.
"There is no need for it. People need to put themselves in other's shoes."
The Lucky Lottery Shop owner Kulwant Singh said he hadn't noticed any great increase in racist behaviour over the last five years.
But there were some bad weeks, Singh said. Last year he was verbally abused and threatened and told "go back to your own country".
At the time he said those threats, yelling and abuse which were targeted at him did not make him feel good and "of course, I am afraid".
Foodstuffs NZ head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said it had more than 37,000 employees at stores in almost every New Zealand community and they were committed to employing people inclusive of all cultures and beliefs.
Foodstuffs joined the "give nothing to racism pledge" in 2017 to stand with fellow retailers to help solve the injustice around racial discrimination.
"It has no place in our business let alone our wider New Zealand communities."
Incidents involving racism were unacceptable would not be tolerated towards its team members, she said.
Unfortunately, incidences involving the police did happen but are strictly on a case-by-case basis.
Employees had access to a number of support services including the online mental health tool, Clearhead, she said.
A police spokesperson said every incident was considered and dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Police may remove a person from a premises, issue a warning, or if necessary, take them into custody.
"Our staff often meet with a range of organisations, including retailers, to discuss crime prevention and community safety opportunities."
- Additional reporting Maryana Garcia
When to call the cops
• When an offence is committed and the alleged offender is present call 111 immediately.
• Non urgent matters can be reported through 105.