December 2, 2023

Enterprise JM

Do the Business

the Customer-Worker Relationship Is Broken

  • Insider spoke with a longtime Ikea employee about working in retail.
  • They said they think the relationship between customers and customer-service workers is broken.
  • This is their story, as told to freelance writer Elle Hardy.

Insider spoke with an Ikea employee about working in retail. Their employment has been verified by Insider. This is their story, as told to freelance writer Elle Hardy.

I’ve been working at Ikea for more than five years, and feel that the relationship between customers and customer-service workers has been completely broken. I don’t see how it can go back.

Maybe it’s just people desperate to get their products. When things aren’t in stock and people are mad, they’re taking it out on us because they see us as something lower than they are. 

Right now, the supply-chain blockage is a real struggle. Some customers are understanding, but the ones who aren’t stand out. I recently had someone come through who said the reason we didn’t have anything in stock was because our company is socialist. Another customer told me that we weren’t paying attention to our stock levels, so it’s our fault. 

I’m worried that customers don’t seem to be grasping that it’s not going to get better. They’re still coming in asking when things will be back in stock. At times, we’ve heard through the grapevine that it could be up to six months before we have certain items.

These issues have been slowly building since we first reopened after lockdown. Our stock was selling faster than anticipated, then eventually, the supply-chain issues took hold and we never completely caught up. 

I think that people get spoiled by the culture of instant gratification. To have to tell them that the item they want might not be there for two weeks — it’s something that, in modern times, was unheard of until recently, and customers keep taking it out on us.

Mask mandates earlier in the pandemic didn’t help either. Most of the employees are still wearing masks and taking a step back from people who get right up in your face. For that, we get snide comments and rudeness from some customers.

One customer started on me about how mask mandates are discrimination. They said: “How would you like it if I discriminated against you because of how you looked?” 

Honestly, after that, the staff as a whole had an unspoken agreement that we weren’t going to press customers to wear masks anymore. It just wasn’t worth it.

You can spend your whole day fighting with customers if you really want to, or you can just get on with your work and let it go. 

For me, I think that was the moment when I first started thinking that the relationship between customers and service workers was broken. We were asking our customers to do one little thing for our safety, and they didn’t just ignore it — it seemed as though they felt like they had to fight with us about it every day.

I’m kind of done with all of them. I can’t even look at people the same way anymore.