Racial profiling leads minorities to shop online rather than in stores

Shoppers from minority groups are more likely to shop online than go into a store, in order to avoid racial profiling, according to a new report.

The study from the French beauty company Sephora found that in order to avoid incidents such as being falsely accused of shoplifting, minority shoppers avoid touching product samples, make a point of chatting to sales assistants and make sure they are well dressed, all in order to lessen the possibility of being racially profiled when “shopping while black”.

Last summer, fashion brands were called out for alleged hypocrisy, for making public statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement while casual racism remained common on shop floors.

Staff at one chain, Anthropologie, allegedly used a codename, “Nick”, to identify black customers. Such reports led the company to say it was “deeply saddened and disturbed by reports of racial profiling in our stores” and to “apologise, profusely and unequivocally, to any customer who was made to feel unwelcome”.

In June, as protests spread after the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Aurora James, the founder of the shoes and accessories brand Brother Vellies, suggested major retailers give 15% of shelf space to black-owned businesses – a figure representing the US black population.

Sephora was one of the most high-profile companies to commit to the 15% pledge.

In June 2019, after the singer SZA claimed to have been racially profiled in a Sephora store in Calabasas, California, the chain closed for diversity training.

An employee the singer named as Sandy “called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing”, SZA wrote. The store replied, saying it was “actively working with our teams to address the situation immediately”.

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The new Sephora study said a lack of “top down” systemic diversity affected minority customers’ shopping experience. Racial homogeneity in employees and marketing campaigns led to such shoppers feeling excluded, the study said, even before they had entered a shop.

The report also noted that minority shoppers felt their shopping experience was informed by reactions to their skin tone and ethnicity, while shoppers who had a negative experience based on their skin colour would be unlikely to report it. Three in five minority customers said they would be unlikely to return to a shop where they experienced discrimination.

Sephora has issued a series of pledges, including doubling the amount of black-owned brands it will stock; a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination; and a new company-wide greeting system focused on attempting to created shared experience for all customers, irrespective of race.

“At Sephora, diversity, equality and inclusion have been our core values since we launched a new kind of beauty retail destination in the US over 20 years ago,” the company president and chief executive, Jean-André Rougeot, said.

“[But] the reality is the shoppers at Sephora and in US retail more broadly are not always treated fairly and consistently.”


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