Sign at Vancouver hardware store calls out bad customer behaviour during pandemic
VANCOUVER -- It was one of many signs posted at the front of a Home Hardware store on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End. Some indicated changes brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced opening hours and distancing.
But this sign referred to what some say is an unpleasant byproduct of current conditions: bad customer behaviour.
Under the title “Unacceptable,” the sign called out what was described as “appalling” disrespect and abuse towards staff.
“If you think you will be unable to behave in a calm, respectful manner and accept our current situation with empathy and an expectation of compromise, we kindly ask you to shop elsewhere,” it read.
George Schwab told CTV News he used to work at the store earlier this year, and experienced some rude customer behaviour himself.
“There is a sense that people, with their frustration, feel they can take it out on the employees,” Schwab said, and added they would try to explain the changes were for everyone’s safety, but it didn’t help.
“They ramp it up even more, and more, to the point where they’ve called myself, they’ve called all the employees….pretty derogatory names and swear words that we can’t say on TV. And it’s really sad.”
CTV News tried to reach the store’s independent owner, but did not hear back.
Home Hardware’s director of communications, Jessica Kuepfer, said while the sign was not one they provided to the store, the intention behind it was to try and protect employees.
“He wasn’t out of line in terms of suggesting that customers act in a kind and courteous manner,” Kuepfer said, and added shoppers have experienced a lot of change, and emotions are heightened. “We’re all dealing with a global pandemic, and as we strive to keep our stores safe, we ask that customers extend that level of safety and kindness back.”
Kuepfer said Home Hardware has created its own signs, which were also visible at the Davie Street store, reminding people that aggression, intimidation, and harassment will not be tolerated, and anyone behaving in that way will be asked to leave.
“We certainly did unfortunately need to create that sign in the last little while," she said. “We understand that it is a difficult and unusual time for everyone…we do ask that everyone is mindful of being a little more kind than necessary.”
Director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada Greg Wilson said increased anxiety has ramped up the number of “problematic” interactions.
“I think people are accustomed to grocery stores and other stores being the same, and that they’re not right now completely the same, so I think there’s an element of that,” Wilson said, and added he thinks over the longer term, more businesses will end up investing in de-escalation training for their employees. “We encourage everybody to be kind, and remember that the employee in that retail store is also very anxious about their own health.”
Over the course of the day, a store employee came out and removed the unofficial sign, saying he was told to do so.
Kuepfer said the store owner made a decision to take the sign down, but was not asked to take that action.
Schwab said he remains grateful to the customers who were kind and would stand up to other shoppers getting out of line with the staff.
“I would just restate what Dr. Bonnie Henry has said all the time: Be kind, be safe, and be calm,” he said.