Newswise — Certainly you've heard of road rage. Joshua D. Dorsey, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at California State University, Fullerton, studies another kind of modern-day anger: retail rage.

While a person behind a shopping cart may not inflict the same kind of damage as someone driving a 6,000-pound SUV, a few years ago Dr. Dorsey began noticing a troubling rise in violence at malls and big-box stores.

"The increase was especially dramatic around the holiday shopping season," he says. "During what was supposed to be a happy time, people were actually getting hurt."

In research on "aisle rage" published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Dorsey wrote about the Florida man who became involved in a dispute with a fellow Walmart shopper about who was on the right side of an aisle. The man whacked the shopper in the head with a dustpan with such fury the handle broke off.

Then there was the Los Angeles woman who, during a Black Friday sale, engaged in escalated "competitive shopping," pepper-spraying another customer so she'd have first dibs on some heavily discounted merchandise.

Pepper spray was also the weapon used in an aisle rage incident in a Seattle mall, where fights broke out among customers shopping for retro Air Jordan basketball shoes. "I'm an Air Jordan fan myself," Dorsey says with a laugh, "so I can almost understand that one." 

A Career in Brand Management

Fists may not fly on the Web, but lately Dorsey has seen retail rage shift to online shopping, where it's becoming even more common. In the digital realm, fury takes the form of scorching comments on Yelp and Twitter and Facebook, among other social platforms. And the bruising is to brands, not individuals.

"Negative word of mouth can spread virally online," explains Dorsey. "For marketers it's the equivalent of a public health epidemic. If there's not a quick and effective response, the impact can be huge and difficult to recover from."

Still, there's a silver lining to shopper wrath. As Dorsey tells the students in his marketing classes at CSU Fullerton, this type of consumer behavior is opening up new job opportunities. "There are now branding agencies and entire departments within companies devoted to monitoring social media and responding to negative comments," he says.

"Brand management within the digital space has really grown as a career path." 

If You're an Angry Shopper

Meanwhile, if you're someone who becomes agitated when shopping online and likely to express yourself in uncensored language, Dorsey has some pointers for you, too.

They come from research he undertook for a journal article he co-authored on mindfulness and consumer behavior:

  • Before you press send or post that nasty comment, take a mindful moment, breathing deeply in and out. "Rage is a human emotion," Dorsey says, "but that doesn't mean you need to act when you're in the throes of it."
  • Carefully consider what you want. Do you just want to vent? Or are you seeking some kind of refund or compensation? If it's the latter, once you've cooled down by practicing your mindful moment, be clear and direct in your communications with the retailer.