King Soopers: Killed in the line of retail duty

Discussion
Source: Facebook/@kingsoopers
Mar 29, 2021

“They died in one of the few places where Americans have gathered during the pandemic, in a supermarket that had set time aside every day to give people the vaccine that is supposed to open a path back to something like normalcy.”
The Washington Post

I grew up in Boulder, shopping at the Table Mesa King Soopers with my mom. From the day it opened, it was part of the neighborhood’s heart and soul. We not only shopped for weekly groceries but stopped for snacks after long hikes and bicycle rides. We knew the associates. Even after moving to Oregon, I returned to the store when visiting my dad.

Connections like these are common. Stores are important parts of our lives. How did my retailer of childhood memory become a site of mass death? Working in retail today puts associates on the front line of a society overflowing with anger and mental illness.

The King Soopers horror is not isolated. Recent history reminds us that malls and stores are common sites of mass shootings, as are churches and schools.

First responders encounter humanity’s most serious ills when people fall through cracks. Teachers carry a tremendous burden of society’s ills. In retail, however, we’ve tended to only fear being overnight convenience store clerks in a tough neighborhood.

That’s not true anymore. Half of the 10 victims in Monday’s shooting were killed “in the line of retail duty” — three King Soopers employees, an Instacart worker and a coffee machine repairman.

Retail’s front line faces an angry, vocal minority that abuses associates simply because workers cannot fight back. Pandemic videos show shoppers raining rage simply for being asked to wear a mask.

The body of Boulder policeman Eric Talley, killed at King Soopers, was accompanied by an honor guard of emergency vehicles, lights ablaze. We can be assured he will be honored. How should we honor the retail workers who similarly lost their lives while doing their jobs? Colorado Governor Polis and President Biden lowered flags to half-staff. It’s a good start.

How about each of us supporting workers when they are confronted and abused? We may not know an entire situation, but anger is no excuse for abusing an associate.

Pogo Possum observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Associates meet us with a smile. Let’s not respond with a slap or tolerate others doing the same.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can we begin to change the world so simple honor and respect is accorded those who make our lives more livable by putting themselves on the front line of retail? Have “the customer is always right” programs in retail allowed confrontations with associates to escalate?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"In a world where a minority of people seem to be getting angrier and angrier, this serves as a reminder that those on the retail front-line can be at terrible risk. "
"Customers can contribute by being courteous to one another and supportive of hard-working associates. Be kind. Change the world one compliment at a time."
"Honoring employees who are killed in the line duty is a small but meaningful thing that every corporation in America can change right now."

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30 Comments on "King Soopers: Killed in the line of retail duty"


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Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

I’m somewhat at a loss here. I hope I’m not overthinking it, but is this article conflating abuse of retail employees with the horrific act of a mass-shooting? What am I missing from this, was the shooting caused by a disagreement in the store (I have not heard that, yet).

Rick Moss
Staff

Zach, I believe the author is listing such attacks along with customer confrontations separately as among the threats front-line workers face today. I don’t think he meant to suggest this incident stemmed from a disagreement with a worker.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

Thanks Rick! Yes, separate topic – It’s been sad to see a rise in front-line workers taking the brunt of upset customers, specifically in this last year. Tensions around the end of the year and around January 6th have had people acting more passionately than before, and the politics of the pandemic have unfortunately seeped into the retail main stage. I’ve witnessed this first hand in the suburbs of Atlanta. To the question being asked: I’d simply say that people feel more entitled than ever, and my take is that social media, not “customer is always right” is the cause of that. Retailers should begin to train on conflict resolution, which is a sad reality but a necessary one.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

My heart goes out to all of those affected by this, especially those who have lost loved ones. In a world where a minority of people seem to be getting angrier and angrier, this serves as a reminder that those on the retail front-line can be at terrible risk. Retailers need to provide proper security and adequate training to deal with day-to-day incidents. And a very clear message needs to be sent that any abuse of shop workers is completely unacceptable. The rest of us can help by going out of our way to be extra nice to those serving us. This, I know, will not solve every problem that leads to tragedies like that in Table Mesa, but it is a small way of honoring those who lost their lives.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

Agreed Neil, specifically on your points about training to deal with day-to-day conflicts.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I’ve always said, “The customer is NOT always right. So if they are wrong, let them be wrong with dignity and respect.” However if the customer is breaking a law or exhibiting behavior that is outside of normal (that doesn’t include rudeness or inconsiderate behavior), then it is time to escalate the situation to a higher level. What happened at King Soopers – and all of the other shootings – is horrible. I can barely describe my feelings in words. Retailers are going to be on high alert. There will be additional training on how to handle these situations. There will be new protocols and laws that may be put into place. Is it possible that security at the mall will start to look like security at the airports? I surely hope not, but if these incidents keep occurring, we may be looking at higher levels of security that are inconvenient for both customers and retailers – and that can’t possibly be good for business.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

“The shopper is always right” might be a philosophy to put customers right, but they are often not right. I still think it is good practice for an employee to swallow their pride and help avoid a confrontation. In fact, I´m sure that if employees stood their ground when they think they are right, the number of confrontations would be much higher than it is now – so in balance, this philosophy and practice is probably useful.

In fact, this article and many of my personal experiences of outrage in retail stores suggests that the people overreacting are probably going to do so anyway because of problems in their lives that originate from outside the store. Therefore, front-line employees should be trained to deal with conflict as well as possible, but not do anything to escalate the situation. Besides, the vast majority of shoppers are truly appreciative and sometimes show their gratitude. Perhaps not enough, but most of the time days go by smoothly for employees.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
This is a very hard topic for me. Partly because I went to school in Boulder, lived there for five years, often visit as a family when we get the chance – got my start in retail tech at The Peppercorn on the open-air mall in Boulder. And have been to that King Soopers many times. And my kids were in school the day two kids brought guns to their school in Highlands Ranch and killed a student and injured eight others, which was Colorado’s last mass shooting, just three years ago now. I’m so TIRED of having to face yet another attack, another death, another round of “thoughts and prayers.” I will say this: everyone has been focused on reopening and the bright side of vaccinations and “going back to normal”. But more people mixing together means more people emerging from a pressure cooker of the last year and not having the support or tools to help them manage that sudden exposure and decompression, and having too-easy access to too many guns. It was… Read more »
Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

Hi Nikki! So absolutely agree on the “getting back to normal” comment. You’re spot-on, the pressure cooker of the last year is by no means over and people need a natural way to alleviate and normalize that stress.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Did not know you were located in Denver nor that you attended CU. A great comment on a topic which is incredibly complex. Thanks. (If you run into any of my relatives back there, tell them “hi” for me. 🙂 )

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Such a change requires that we begin to respect others beyond our selfish drives of wants and desires; That we shed the cloak of entitlement falsely derived by being a paying customer that demands service on one’s terms. Society’s civil fabric is strengthened through all our interactions and the multitude of formed relationships. When we enter a relationship and presume superiority or demand obsequiousness by dint of “the customer is always right,” we impair our sense of community.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I’m with Zach. And I think retailers should be MUCH more worried about their front-line employees than they are. We just published a benchmark recently, and “employee safety and security” were voted least frequently as a top-three operational concern.

I had to say “You guys are disappointing, at best.” And this was among senior executives.

There will always be some ignorant, rude and horrible customers. Protect your employees.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

1000 percent Paula – Sadly, I don’t see enough major stores with active patrol/security. I’d expect this in a Target, for example. It’s incumbent on the retailer to provide security to their employees and customers. Specifically for their employees. Verbal abuse is something to be protected against, second only to physical abuse. I saw recently a video of Bath & Body Works employees in an altercation with customers, where the customer was out of control. How that disagreement evolved is beyond me — but just goes to show no environment is truly safe unless the retailers themselves make it a safe place.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

This feels a bit disconnected to me. I don’t know what “the customer is always right” has to do with the safety of store employees. As someone who has dealt with physical violence and been threatened with all manner of weapons while a store employee, I can empathize with my fellow front-liners. Store policies typically require employees to do what they can to avoid confrontation and danger. But no store policy is ready to deal with an armed shooter looking to kill en masse.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

It may or may not, Jeff. However, as we’ve seen in various programs which cleaned up city areas, enforcement and prevention start with attitudes toward behavior. I will theorize that when stores give up power when customers get what they want regardless of the truth of the situation, then customers are encouraged (non-verbally) to escalate what they demand. For those who start with incredible instability (as this young man did), perhaps that’s enough for them to choose a store as the place to let their rage loose.

I don’t have data — and these issues are far too complex for simple, one-theme answers. But my gut instinct is that it’s probably part of the problem.

Keith Anderson
BrainTrust

My first job in retail was at a King Soopers in Aurora, Colorado. Condolences to the victims of this tragedy and other gun violence.

I do think front-line retail workers deserve more respect and better compensation for the service they provide and the risks they’re subjected to.

Customer-centricity isn’t inherently in conflict with an expectation of being treated with dignity, and it’s on executives and store leadership to create a culture and environment for that.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I don’t know the answer to this problem — beyond legislative action — but all of us have a role to play. Customers can contribute by being courteous to one another and supportive of hard-working associates. Be kind. Change the world one compliment at a time.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
A man who went to my high school was killed in the King Soopers shooting simply because he chose to go grocery shopping for his family on the day when horror unfolded on the sales floor. This type of tragedy is unfathomable, nor is it comparable to what happens to front-line retail associates every day. No, the customer isn’t always right, in fact some customers can be every kind of wrong. Those of us who have worked the sales floor have plenty of awful customer horror stories, I know I do. Times are different now; people are different now. Even those who do not suffer from mental illness are sometimes pushed beyond what is considered normal behavior by the pandemic. We’ve all seen it happen in stores in the last year. Do we jump in? Sometimes. And sometimes standing up for a store associate at the time of interaction can escalate the situation and make it worse. I’d be willing to bet we have all been there, too. It’s a hard time to be in… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Excellent points, Georganne.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Thanks, Doug. It’s a tough topic.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust
Decades ago I walked into Stew Leonard’s and saw, “Rule #1—The Customer is Always Right” and “Rule #2—If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Re-Read Rule #1.” I have seen customers speechless because they were asking for something ridiculous and the associate complied. So, NO! The customer is always right philosophy will ultimately de-escalate confrontations, not increase them. As far as “honor and respect”, this is not a retail issue. As long as we have mass shootings in the U.S., we as a country are showing more “honor and respect” for those who want weapons than those who prefer to be unarmed. Even the parade for Officer Talley will be forgotten tomorrow. It is an empty show. As a country, if we really want to honor those retail workers, the students, the churchgoers, the shoppers, we take seriously this epidemic of guns we have in the U.S. As an aside, Many of the students I teach in China eventually come to the U.S. to study. The single biggest issue with their parents is the concern for… Read more »
Al McClain
Staff

Gene, I agree with you. One of the primary reasons for these mass shootings is the easy availability of guns. Sure, there are other ways to harm and kill people, but how many videos and images of large arsenals of guns do we have to see to make the connection between the availability of guns and mass killings? I think a federal gun buyback program could be a great start, if the program is serious and robust. But, that’s only if enough Republicans are willing to vote for some kind of sensible firearms sales restrictions, which I highly doubt. I’m guessing eventually the problem will become so bad that something will get done, but it will probably get a lot worse before it gets better. Then again, 500,000+ pandemic deaths have not been enough for us to really tackle coronavirus seriously as a country, so I’m not too optimistic.

Scott Norris
Guest

We should probably have a discussion tomorrow about the Publix incident at Atlantic Station, how it conflates with the attacks on Asians in Atlanta, and what role/responsibility retail and manufacturers have in proactively advocating for legal changes to keep their staff and clientele safe. “Staying out of politics” has only led to more loss of life.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

While I don’t know the best answer to solve these issues, the simplest way to begin any discussion around this is to say, “be kind.” Store associates are doing their job as best they can – a no less important job than any job any customer who walks into the store is doing. It’s time these jobs were taken seriously enough by retail executives that they actively think about how to maintain a safe work environment. There will always be rude customers. There will, unfortunately, always be dangerous situations that can escalate. The best we can hope is to reduce the number of those incidents as much as possible in the future by asking everyone to be kind to those front-line employees making it possible for you to buy the things you want and need to buy. If there were ever a time to believe that we are all in this together, it must be now — if not, when?

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

It may sound crazy, but I think we can see they day coming when weapon detectors are placed in the front door areas of stores. I wish our world would not dictate that, but I want associates safe, as we all do. Police presence at the front would help. Remember, most of these shooters have some sort of hatred for the world outside the store, and in most cases blame associates working in-store. This has got to stop.

Gene Detroyer