Sephora commissioned “The Racial Bias in Retail Study,” the first large-scale national study conducted on the topic, over a yearlong period beginning in the fall of 2019 and ending in late 2020. The study was conducted by Kelton Global and LRW in partnership with retail racism experts Dr. Cassi Pittman Claytor, Dr. David Crockett, Whitney Dunlap-Fowler, and Dr. Patricia Raspberry.
The in-depth look was designed to measure the issue of racially biased experiences in US retail and to identify opportunities to end unfair treatment. Comprised of academic literature reviews, cultural insights analysis, and comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research, the research informed a new action plan aimed at mitigating racially biased experiences in the retail environment.
Retail is one of society’s most interactive institutions, with millions of people from all different backgrounds crossing paths daily. These interactions bring a range of possibilities, and often, instances of racial bias and unfair treatment.
“When we think about racial bias and unfair treatment, it operates on multiple levels across the consumer journey,” Cassi Pittman Claytor, author of Black Privilege and Climo Junior Professor in the Department of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University, said in a briefing on the report. “From the very start when people even think about things that they want to buy, to actually making a purchase, using a good—every step along the consumer journey, retail bias, racism is evident.”
The research, first and foremost, underscores how pervasive the issue is for US retail shoppers and employees:
- Two in five US retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone.
- Black retail shoppers are 2.5x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while BIPOC shoppers are 2x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%).
- One in five retail employees reports having personally experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work (20%)—either from customers or coworkers.
- One in three retail employees has contemplated quitting when they experienced racial bias and unfair treatment (31% for all employees; 37% for Black employees).
The research identified five primary “truths” that define retail shoppers’ experiences with racial bias, including:
Truth #1: Limited diversity across marketing, merchandise, and retail employees results in exclusionary treatment before shoppers even enter a store, and continues across their in-store journey.
- 74% of retail shoppers feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures.
- 65% think stores fail to deliver an equally distributed assortment of products catering to different shoppers’ tastes and preferences.
- 78% don’t believe there is representation in brands or companies that are owned by and made for people of color.
Truth# 2: US BIPOC shoppers feel in-store interactions are driven by their skin color, appearance, and ethnicity, yet retail employees cite behavioral attributes, rather than appearance, as the basis for their interactions.
- BIPOC retail shoppers are 3x more likely than white shoppers to feel most often judged by their skin color and ethnicity (32% vs. 9%).
- White shoppers, on the other hand, are more likely to cite factors like age (27% vs. 12%) or attractiveness (13% vs. 7%), as the primary basis of the treatment they face.
- While shoppers feel they are being judged by their appearance, 60% of retail employees surveyed cited behavioral attributes rather than physical attributes when determining how to approach or interact with shoppers. This gap in perception results in a significant disconnect between how shoppers and employees interpret interactions in US retail.
Truth #3: US BIPOC retail shoppers use coping mechanisms, such as shopping online, to minimize or avoid an anticipated biased experience when in-store. While many customer experience needs are universal, BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome.
- The study also showed there are clear areas where retailers can focus efforts to make the shopping experience more inclusive and welcoming for all.
- BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome compared to white shoppers in creating a positive in-store experience, including promptly being greeted and offering assistance when shoppers enter the store, telling shoppers about new products, offers, and services, and having store associates who “look like me.”
Trush #4: The majority of retail shoppers do not voice concerns about negative experiences directly to retailers—creating missed opportunities for feedback and improvement, and impacting future sales as shoppers take their business elsewhere.
- Only 30% of shoppers reacted actively to unfair treatment as a means of providing feedback to the retailer, such as publishing an online review or social post about their experience.
- 15% reported raising the issue with a manager or store supervisor.
- Even among those shoppers who did provide direct feedback, 61% were unsatisfied with the retailer’s response.
- These situations can have permanent, economic consequences for a retailer, with 43% of BIPOC shoppers saying they are unlikely to visit any store location belonging to a retailer where they experienced mistreatment.
TRUTH #5: Meaningful and long-term action is most important to US retail shoppers and employees.
- Both expect retailers to show their commitment to change through new programs, training, and tools designed to address these pervasive issues.
- But this is not often the reality for many retail shoppers who have experienced unfair treatment: BIPOC shoppers are 3x less likely than white shoppers to say the retailer addressed their experience with a change in store policy (34% vs. 11%).
- A majority (81%) of retail employees recognize the importance of being able to service diverse shopper needs; 27% feel confident they can meet them extremely well, with many expressing a desire for more training and education to address these gaps.
Read more about Sephora’s racial bias report and download the eBook.
Photo: via Sephora