New legislation has been passed protecting all retail workers across the UK from abuse after the highest levels on record were reached during the pandemic.
Over 35,000 incidents of violence have taken place over the past year in convenience stores, figures show.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has introduced tougher penalties against customers who attack shop workers.
Under the new law abuse against individuals who serve the public has become an aggravated offence, and the legislation was given royal assent on 28 April.
How often do retail staff experience abuse?
Levels of abuse reached new highs during the pandemic.
Figures from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) 2022 Crime Report showed that in the past year, 89% of staff working in convenience stores alone have faced abuse in their job.
More than 35,000 incidents of violence have taken place.
Over 16,000 incidents including the use of a weapon.
Polling conducted by the ACS showed that more than a third of consumers had witnessed violence and abuse against shopworkers.
What caused the abuse to shop workers?
Demands to encourage mask-wearing and maintain social distancing rules during the pandemic triggered a major spike in abuse, threats and violence during lockdown.
Co-op was one of the first chains to speak out after the retailer received a spike in complaints from staff.
The Co-op said it had recorded a 140% surge in criminal activity, with more than 200,000 of those cases including violent or non-violent shoplifting.
Co-op retail boss Jo Whitfield said: "Colleagues have been terrorised with axes and physically punched.
Another was hospitalised with a punctured lung and broken ribs after being attacked by three shoplifters over a £10 bottle of spirits.
She added: “The problem is not a Co-op one, or a retailer one – it is a societal one."
Rival grocer Iceland recorded 650 instances of verbal abuse and 30 of physical assault arising from customers’ refusals to comply with Covid rules during the same period.
A spokesman said: "The majority of violent incidents continue to relate to shoplifting."
Andrew Opie at the British Retail Consortium said: "Sadly, this [enforcement of face coverings] has led to a sharp rise in incidents of violence and abuse against shop workers, which is why it is essential police support the work being done by retailers."
What’s been said about the new law?
ACS CEO James Lowman said the legislation is “strongly welcomed” as the retailer sector have been calling for it for many years.
He said: “It’s essential that the penalties for attacking a shopworker serve as an effective deterrent.
“Introducing tougher sentences for those who attack people providing a service to the public, including shopworkers, marks a significant step forward, but it does not solve the problem by itself.”
Mr Lowman added: “We need to ensure that abuse is not seen as part of the job and that all incidents are reported, and in response, Police and Crime Commissioners must prioritise crimes committed against retailers and their colleagues.
“We must also put the right interventions in place to stop those with substance and alcohol dependencies from reoffending.”
The National Federation of Retail Newsagents national president Narinder Randhawa said: “Attacks against store owners and their staff have been increasing for a number of years, so I am pleased that we are now being given the same protection in law as other frontline workers
“Being attacked verbally or physically while just going about your daily business should not be tolerated and seen as part of the job.”
Mr Randhawa added: “The important thing now is that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to ensure this new law is an effective deterrent and not just a piece of paper.
“It’s essential that retailers report all incidents to highlight the scale of the problem, and the police response has to improve if retail crime is to be tackled head on.”