State Of Racial Profiling In American Retail
Updated: January 13, 2023
With prominent cases of racial profiling at retail giants such as CVS, Macy’s, Zara and even Walmart, where a Black man was recently awarded $4.4 million for being racially profiled while shopping; the issue of persistent bias towards customers of color in retail stores remains a significant problem in American society.
This study focuses on exploring the extent to which consumers who identify as Black or African American in the United States, experience racial profiling when shopping in a retail setting. Through our data we will showcase how this segment of consumers experience racial profiling while shopping and the ramifications it has on consumer behavior.
In this report we surveyed 1020 consumers in the United States that identify as Black or African American. Below you will find the key findings, excerpts of racial profiling incidents that consumers experienced, and a demographic breakdown at the end. You can skip to each section by clicking on one of the buttons below. Survey methodology and demographics can be found at the end of this report.
Prevalence Of Racial Profiling In Retail Shopping
90.2% of consumers that identify as Black or African American have experienced racial profiling while shopping in-store.
89.1% of consumers that identify as Black or African American know someone who was also racially profiled while shopping in-store.
Women that identify as Black or African American are only 3% less likely to experience racial profiling while shopping in comparison to men with same racial identity.
Frequency, Setting & Types Of Racial Profiling In Retail
69.6% of respondents indicated that they experience racial profiling sometimes while shopping in-store and 15.7% said they experienced it frequently.
Department stores were the most cited retail setting where respondents experienced racial profiling at 51%. Malls, Luxury Boutiques and Supermarkets were all cited by about a third of respondents as retail settings where they experienced racial profiling. Local stores were least cited at 14.7%.
75.5% of respondents indicated that they were followed and closely watched, while 27.5% and 22.6% said they were asked for additional ID or questioned rigorously when shopping respectively. Another 19.6% indicated that they were accused of shop lifting and 16.7% indicated they were refused services completely.
The two most common types of microaggressions experienced by customers who identify as Black or African American were ‘Treated Differently Than Customers of Other Races’ (50.3%) & ‘Ignored & Made To Wait Excessively’ (47%). Other cited microaggressions were: ‘Told Where Sale Section Was Without Asking’ (30.4%); ‘Told Price Of An Item Without Asking’ (28.4%); & ‘Saw Store Employees Talking About Me’ (24.5%).
Customer Response To Racial Profiling
52% of respondents that experienced racial profiling or microaggressions never shopped at that store again.
36.3% of consumers that experienced racial profiling or microaggressions unfollowed the brand on social media.
55.9% of respondents that experienced racial profiling while shopping in-store now do more of their shopping online.
68% of consumers would forgive a company where they experienced racial profiling while shopping if the company issued a public apology or announced a commitment to systematic diversity.
32% of consumers would NOT forgive a company where they experienced racial profiling while shopping even if the company issued a public apology or announced a commitment to systematic diversity.
74.5% of consumers that experienced racial profiling while shopping indicated that store employees were responsible. Management (46.1%) and security (24.5%) at the store were responsible for their negative experience.
This section contains the most striking cases of racial profiling while shopping as told by the survey respondents. To gather individual experiences from each respondent we asked the following question, “Please describe in detail the most memorable incident of racial profiling that you experienced while shopping.”
The excerpts from each individual experience are no in particular order but showcase a grim picture of how consumers of color are racially profiled in retail settings.
“While shopping at a designer purse store with a white friend, I was shown the selection of clearance items, while she was asked if she wanted to see the new releases.”
“My wife is Caucasian. I was following behind her at a clothing store when she was approached by an employee who warned her that she was being followed by a ‘strange’ black man. When she told the employee I was her husband, the employee seemed annoyed by how things turned out.”
“Recently when going into a bakery to buy a birthday cake, I had to wait on the dots on the floor to stay six feet apart. I waited for a long period of time while other customers who came in later were helped first. When I tried to get someone to help me, they ignored me, looked right through me as though I didn’t speak the language. I left the bakery and went to the grocery store to pick up a premade cake for the party.”
“Walked into a store and they came up to me over 6 times asking if I needed anything and how they have discounts if needed.”
“The last time that I went to the hair store to buy extensions, the cashier/owner tried to subtly follow me around the store. When I had been looking at a product around a corner for a while (not visible in view), she showed up around the corner and asked if I was looking for something specific. I told her ‘no, I’m just deciding’ and she (seemingly) walked away. When I came around the corner, I realized that she was still there, she was just watching me from a different angle.”
“Even though I’ve been followed around in the store I think the most memorable experience was when I was at a nail salon. I had gone there before but this time I went on a weekend when it was busy. I didn’t have an appointment but they write me down. A white woman came in about 15-30 minutes after me and also said she didn’t have an appointment. They literally helped her before me and got someone working on her. I had a strong feeling it was because of my race and that they probably felt I would not tip as much. I had no proof besides them treating her much differently than me. I was furious so I left.”
“I was in a shoe store. And I heard the announcement over the intercom for security to ‘Walk’ the floor. And next thing I knew I had security near by me on every side.”
“I was at Macy’s department store at the mall. I was next in line and the white cashier told the white people that they can bring their merchandise up next and I will ring you up. I was made to wait.”
“I was shopping in a small store like we barely had room to move and honestly you can see everything that was happening in the store while at the counter so they really had no reason to be following us in the store. But they were walking behind us every move we made to where we would walk a certain way to see if they would follow and they did. And there were other people in the store of different race and they were not following or watching them.”
“The most memorable experience is an incident that happened at Target. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. I was followed around by security throughout the whole time I was shopping and security was not even trying to hide the fact that he was closely following me. I got up to the register and the employee there said as little to me as possible and forgot to load 3 of the bags in my cart. When I got to my car and realized there was quite a few missing items I went back to the cashier and of course I was again followed by the security person throughout the process of coming back into the store. When I asked the register about the missing bags containing items I had paid for; she was very rude to me, insisted that I was mistaken and that she either had placed the items in the cart of the person behind me or I was making it all up and trying to get free merchandise. She dismissed me and told me to talk to management because she could no longer help me. I haven’t shopped at Target since.”
“I walked into the store and one of the workers started following me. He was a tall white man. I was looking at the eggs and when I picked them up he approached me and said that they aren’t free. I took him I know that and I walked away. Nothing else happened, and when I told their manager they didn’t seem to care much at all.”
“I was shopping with my son at a well-known department store and every time I turned around the sales clerk was right there we had quite a few items and the clerk asked us if he could help us with anything at least 15 times there were other people in the store who may have needed his assistance. I then went to the bathroom and when I came out the clerk was following my son around the store at which point I had to confront him and asked to speak to a manager. However, the manager was not in and I was so mad I dropped all my items right where I stood and walked out of the store and never returned .”
“Went to a certain mall and the security at the entrance denied me access until I provided an extra id even after providing it they kept an eye on me.”
“Recently I walked into a luxury store and I picked a fragrance in my hand. I had bought one sometimes back and I experienced some side effects and so I picked a different one and was checking for the ingredients, warnings and contact information so I could ask questions. A sales rep came and asked me if I knew what that was. I said yes I did, she then asked me if I knew how much was the cost. I said yes. She kind of politely asked me to put it down. She was surprised when I bought it in the end and left.”
“The most memorable incident that I can recall involves just being followed from rack to rack. Every time I moved the employee moved and constantly asked me if I need anything. I was a kid, but this is why my mom always told us to not touch anything in the store and to look with our eyes and not our hands. I always thought that she didn’t want us to break anything but the older I got the more I realized that she didn’t want us to even give them the perception that we were trying to take anything even when we had no intention of doing so. I also realize that this is why we were never allowed to just take our items and say no bag, we were trained to always get a bag and receipt. “
“I went to a store and had on a jacket on I had previously purchased there. Once I went to check out I was told I had to pay for my Jacket I tried to explain that I came in with it on and they did not believe me. I then did not want to buy ANYTHING and just wanted to exit the store I was detained and security was called. The manager rolled the tapes back only to see me WALK IN WITH THE JACKET ON! Yes the cashier who accused me was white. I do not know why I was accused but I am sure I can guess.”
“I heard someone announce a ‘Code 5 in the pharmacy department’ and I was the only shopper there… and within about a minute an employee was observing me closely.”
“I was 11 years old and my father brought me and my brothers to get new clothes. We were told that nothing was available to fit us.”
“This happened just after COVID-19 became a pandemic. There is a restaurant that I would frequent prior to COVID-19 and once I went there for lunch soon after lockdown was lifted and slowly most businesses were opening up. I was not allowed to sit ,order my food and eat. Yet I could see people from other races inside the restaurant enjoying their meals.”
“I was stopped before exiting the store and accused of shoplifting, which was not true, and did not receive an apology when they realized they had messed up.”
“My most memorable incident is when I had gone to buy some snacks for my kids in a local store. When I entered the stores door I was asked some rhetoric questions and asked what I wanted yet the store was an open store where one should select what he/she wants alone then pays the cashier. One of the store employees just asked me what I wanted and even told me the price before I asked him. I felt so bad since other customers who were entering the store were not asked such questions.”
SURVEY METHODOLOGY & DEMOGRAPHICS
For the purpose of this study, we surveyed 1020 consumers in the United States who identify as Black or African American to find out the prevalence of racial profiling in American retail. The survey was conducted through SurveyMonkey services.
The demographic composition of the 1020 individuals surveyed is as follows.
Based on the data we collected, a large majority of consumers that identify as Black or African American have experienced racial profiling while shopping and still continue to sometimes encounter it in various retail settings.
Here are some other useful resources that relate to racial profiling while shopping that we recommend: