More than half of shoppers (52%) have witnessed some form of abuse towards retail staff in the past three years, new research from business insurer NFU Mutual has found.

Abuse witnessed ranged from other customers belittling or patronising staff, to cursing, shouting, and even physical attacks.

The NFU’s survey of 2,089 UK shoppers also found that 80% would either physically (32%) or verbally (48%) intervene if a member of staff was being attacked by another customer.

Just under 80% of shoppers also said they expected retail staff to have the necessary training to effectively manage a verbally or physically abusive customer.

However, despite this, nearly half (45%) of the customer-facing businesses that were also surveyed said they were not actively taking any measures to protect their staff.

The study also showed that a well-handled incident can improve a business’s reputation and enhance the likelihood that consumers will return.

Talking about premises they regularly visited, 40% of consumers said they would be just as likely, or even more likely, to visit if an incident was handled well, as they would feel safe.

However, 14% of shoppers said they would be “put off” by a poorly-handled incident at somewhere they regularly visited, while 26% said they would be put off somewhere they were visiting for the first time.

Frank Woods, retail specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Many retail staff are young people taking their first steps into the working world, often doing so for minimum wage, and these sorts of encounters can crush their enthusiasm to pursue a career in retail which is a particular threat while Brexit approaches, and questions about recruiting talent remain unanswered.

“No-one deserves to be spoken to rudely or feel threatened at work, no matter their profession. Consumers have a clear, perhaps idealistic expectation that retail staff are trained to keep themselves and customers safe.

“While this may not always be possible, a well-handled incident could even help to improve reputation and encourage visits.

“It’s the responsibility of the management to keep people safe and although insurance can provide cover against legal action, the best option is always preparation.

“Property damage and damage to security systems is also a common issue of violence in retail premises, which can be limited by following certain precautions.”

Click here to see the NFU Mutal’s advice on how to prevent retail crime.