“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well”.  Jeff Bizos

When organisations employ different marketing strategies in their businesses, their intention is to invite and seek patronage from different customers. This is because their business is to serve the needs of the public. However, the same consumers they actively seek to do business with must also be protected from discrimination or public humiliation at all times.

The interaction of consumers and businesses have gone through a major transition since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with most organisations and consumers minimising physical interactions and opting to transact online.

The lockdown regulations have also plunged the normal working hours into disarray with shops opening late and closing early. However, there has been some relaxation on the trading hours of some shops like supermarkets while strict Covid rules still apply like washing of hands or sanitising of hands, temperature check, wearing of masks and keeping social distance.

This has been a welcome development for most ordinary Zimbabweans who prefer going into the shops and do their shopping physically rather than buying online.

As consumers go for shopping, it is common to see, the words “right of admission reserved” in most public establishments and it is normally engraved at the entrance. Public places like restaurants, hotels, clubs and shops bear that phrase on the door.

But what does this phrase really mean, one may ask? Generally, it is a legal statement that businesses can at any one time refuse entry into their businesses without giving reasons.

Different organisations have different regulations that they may want their customers to adhere to when they are doing business with them and when the customers fail to comply with these regulations, businesses may be forced to refuse service by making use of this legal phrase.

There are, however, some instances where businesses can refuse to serve, like this Covid-19 era is one such example where organisations have put into action certain regulations that are meant to protect their employees and customers from spreading and contracting the disease. Most companies are refusing entry to persons without masks and one has to go through hand sanitisation at almost all business entrances.

This practice is plausible in the fight against the coronavirus, but it becomes a problem when organisations fail to accommodate other groups within their market segment like those with certain challenges in its execution of the regulations. In its true sense, businesses must never turn away any customers because of certain physical challenges. In fact, it must, however, put systems that cater for all types of customers regardless of their challenges.

In cases where a certain individual needs are disregarded because of their challenges, organisations may be practicing discrimination. For instance, the Masvingo incident where Pick ‘n’ Pay refused entry to a woman with albinism is a case of pure discrimination that should not go unchallenged.

With all the publicity on Covid 19 risks and ways to prevent it, it is absurd that a supermarket of that magnitude still employs a management team that lacks empathy on the plight of people living with certain conditions and can unashamedly use discriminatory tactics to refuse such customers their right to do their shopping.

Instead of protecting their brand by providing a bowl of water and soap to their valued customers who are living with albinism, the management of that shop decided to damage the shop’s reputation and pulled the “right of admission reserved” card.

One thing that businesses should note is that the decision not to serve customers must never be based on individual specific characteristics, but rather on customers exhibiting unruly behaviour, or if the customer is harassing or threatening its employees.

The shop turned the lady away because the management failed to just provide water and soap!

Every Zimbabwean has the right to full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges and advantages of any public place, without discrimination.

It is common business knowledge that businesses should or must never turn away customers because of issues that can be solved amicably. It is not only discriminatory but illegal to turn away or refuse to serve certain customers because of their challenges.

Despite individual organisations having their own beliefs regarding the right of admission, places of public accommodation must be open to everyone who abides by reasonable rules such as dress code and behaviour.

Nonetheless, organisations must understand and educate their employees on when to make use of the “right of admission reserved”, without killing the reputation of the brand through discrimination. Employees must know that arbitrary refusal of consumers without valid reasons can result in the organisation facing discrimination lawsuits.

However, there are some circumstances where that phrase can justifiably be used. Like in school, when every student is supposed to be in uniform, or when transporters cannot carry more than a certain number of passengers on their buses.

On the other hand, the customer should also introspect before pulling the discrimination card. Customers must never be boisterous in public establishments neither should they be rude to the organisation’s employees.

Thus, the consumer must have at least a moral understanding on how to behave in public areas as well as knowledge of his rights. Businesses and customers need each other all the time and both have a responsibility to treat each with utmost respect. No to discrimination!

Cresencia Marjorie Chiremba, is a marketing enthusiast with a strong passion for customer service. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached on [email protected] or on 0712 979 461.