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​Cella Lao Rousseau will never forget the day customers made her cry in the retail store where she worked.

"Two women came in and they made me cry on the floor," Rousseau said.

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Winnipegger Cella Lao Rousseau often encountered customers who were very harsh and mean during her four years working in retail. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

The Winnipegger, who is now 23, remembers trying to help them find a product and how they kept asking if she was sure she knew what she was doing.

"They giggled the entire time I cried," she said.

"The more I cried, the more they laughed."

CBC Manitoba recently spoke with Rousseau for the series The Loss of Civility.

Rousseau said she encountered varying degrees of uncivil behaviour during her four years working in retail.

"I'd have people who were very, very harsh, very mean," she said.

Retail employees endure insults, threats

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Luke Filipowicz often had to deal with customers who yelled at him, insulted him and even threatened him during his eight years as a retail employee. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

Luke Filipowicz also recalls being insulted, and even threatened, during his eight years as a retail worker.

"I've had customers call me ugly and I've had customers call me stupid, and call into question why I'm working at the place I'm working at," the 26-year-old said.

"It's hard. You have to compartmentalize it and get over it. That's how you kind of deal with it. But it really eats away at your self-esteem when you're hearing that."

For the almost two million Canadians who work in the retail sector, dealing with rude, difficult customers is often part of the job.

"I think it's a huge problem," said retail analyst Doug Stephens, founder of the website Retail Prophet.

"I think it's a consistent aggravation that retail sales people have had to put up with for an awful long time."

And his sense is the problem is probably worsening, partly because of how perceptions about working in retail have changed.

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Retail analyst Doug Stephens says rude customers are likely becoming more of an issue as perceptions about working in retail change. (Doug Stephens/YouTube)

"There was a time when being a retail sales person was considered to be a relatively middle-class occupation," he said.

But that's no longer the case, according to Stephens.

"We've seen this suppression of wages in the retail sector," he said.

"And I think societally, we don't look at that job anymore as a profession. Retail is sort of something to do until you figure out what to do. So I think consumers for that reason may be looking down on these people."

Despite some tough days on the shop floor, Rousseau said she would go back to working in retail. She values the skills she learned during her time in the job — including what she learned about dealing with retail workers.

"I'm a strong believer that I think every single person should work retail, so you understand what these people go through," she said.

Listen to CBC's Information Radio Monday at 7:40 a.m. for a conversation about rudeness in the retail industry, as part of CBC Manitoba's series The Loss of Civility.


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