High levels of verbal and physical aggression against staff at supermarket retailer Woolworths have led to the introduction of fog cannons and trialling body cameras in 10 stores.
The reports of abuse that roll through daily, and sometimes hourly, have upset Woolworths New Zealand managing director Spencer Sonn, who said that in the past week alone there were reports of team members being spat at, abused and assaulted.
“That’s why, leading up to the holiday season, New Zealanders are going to see and hear us asking for respect. We know it can be a busy and stressful time of year, but there’s no excuse for taking it out on our team,” Sonn said.
Other new safety features to combat what Woolworths called a “brazen and rampant crime wave” in August included trolley lock systems, new camera technology at self-checkouts and double entry gates.
Sonn said every measure implemented complies with New Zealand law, including privacy requirements.
In August, Woolworths said it would invest $45 million in crime prevention.
First Union national organiser for retail food Ross Lampert said it was not long ago supermarket workers were labelled heroes during the Covid-19 pandemic, which made it all the more disappointing to see the abuse hurled at them.
“Unfortunately, since this time, there has been a noticeable escalation in abuse that has been thrown their way, often by customers who are under stress in their own lives. This is not acceptable behaviour, and First Union fully supports ensuring all Countdown and Woolworths team, as well as other retail workers, are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Lampert said.
Sonn said Woolworths also wanted to recognise the “incredible acts of kindness and generosity” that staff saw from their customers and communities every day.
“So this week we’ll be saying thank you.”
This included each store giving out a gift card every day this week “to a local customer to thank them for being respectful and courteous”.
Additionally, intercom announcements will be made in-store that will say, “At Woolworths, we thank you for showing us respect. Safety is important to us. If your behaviour makes anyone feel unsafe, you will be asked to leave and the police may be notified.”
The increased safety measures come as a steady stream of video footage in the past couple of years has shown brazen thieves helping themselves to trolleys full of stolen goods.
In some of the worst thefts, offenders were accused of stealing up to $40,000 worth of groceries in just two months.
In September, news publisher Todd Scott tackled a thief to the ground at an Auckland Woolworths. Police praised his courage but said it’s best to call 111 in similar situations.
As a man started to abuse staff and tried to leave a downtown Auckland supermarket without paying, the National Business Review owner said he acted on instinct - tackling the thief to the ground.
In October, sector lobby group Retail NZ said it was worried retail crime was becoming more widespread, with criminals being “increasingly organised, brazen and violent” and having a sense that they “will get away with it”.
It found that 92 per cent of the 297 businesses it surveyed in its latest Retail Crime in NZ report had been affected by crime in the past year, up from 81 per cent in the 2017 survey.
It estimated this costs the country $2.6 billion annually, with much of the cost flowing through to the prices customers pay.