Shop workers are facing increasing abusive from customers, with an increasing number of members of the public believing that it is acceptable to use threatening behaviour, new research has found.

The TNS survey found that one in 20 people believed it was morally acceptable to verbally abuse a retail employee.

It also suggested that, based on a sample of 1000 respondents, more than 150,000 adults in the UK would agree that physical abuse of a retail employee who had given them poor service was justified.

Commenting on the results, Martin Gill, professor of criminology at the University of Leicester, said: “The most worrying aspect to these findings is that they suggest that retailers and retail staff are considered fair game. This is further evidence that those on the front line are amongst those most likely to be affected. Hopefully this study will help highlight the problem so that those who may suffer can be on their guard.”

The survey also found that many people believed that crimes against larger stores and supermarkets were more acceptable than crimes against smaller retailers.

Twice as many British adults would consider it acceptable to shoplift from a large retailer as thought it was fair game to steal from a smaller independent retailer.