Retailers Face Major Backlash from Racism Claims

Two major New York retailers face racism charges after several African-American shoppers claimed that they were unfairly targeted by security. One of the complaints involves a 21-year old nursing student who was stopped by undercover police officers after leaving a store with a $2,500 handbag she had purchased. Another involves an HBO actor who was handcuffed and detained after purchasing a $1,300 Movado watch for his mother. These allegations have sparked a New York Attorney General investigation into Macy’s Inc.’s and Barneys New York Inc.’s policies for detaining and questioning customers.

While the retailers at the center of this controversy claim their innocence and have publically stated that the persons involved were not their employees but instead were New York City Police Department personnel, that has not stopped protestors from calling for a boycott of the stores involved and from pressuring hip hop mogul Jay-Z to sever promotional ties with Barneys.

The events in New York follow two high profile African-Americans either experiencing or reflecting on experiences involving similar circumstances. In August 2013 Oprah Winfrey was allegedly told by shop assistant in Switzerland that she couldn’t see a $38,000 Tom Ford crocodile skin handbag because “it was too expensive.” President Barrack Obama, following the Trayvon Martin verdict, reflected on his experiences of being followed in a department store. These events have brought back to the national spotlight claims of “shopping while black.” Many African-American shoppers have long complained that store employees give them suspicious looks or rude service simply because of racial prejudice.

While it remains to be seen whether employees of the retailers in question racially profiled the detained shoppers, or whether it was the actions of the NYPD, these cases should be a reminder to retailers that their policies for confronting alleged shoplifters should be reviewed and re-evaluated on a regular basis. These cases should also be an opportunity for retail employers to educate store employees on how to be more sensitive to the ever more diverse consumer market. Preventative steps like these can help retailers avoid both costly litigation and public relations nightmares.

Related topics: Retail