Urban Outfitters employees say code names like 'Nick,' 'Nicky' are used to racially profile

"We profusely apologize to each and every customer who was made to feel unwelcome."
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"The terms “Nick/Nicole” were used to specify someone who could be (shoplifting). Most of the time it was used for a Black person," wrote one social media user who identified themselves as a former employee.Scott Eells / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Lindsay Lowe

Urban Outfitters is responding to accusations of racial profiling in their stores.

In recent days, social media users have been sharing stories about how Urban Outfitters employees would sometimes refer to Black shoppers with the code names “Nick,” “Nicky” or “Nicole.”

While these nicknames were technically meant to call out any potential shoplifter, they were disproportionately used to profile Black customers, according to several people on social media who identify themselves as former Urban Outfitters employees.

“I worked at Urban Outfitters, the same company that owns Anthropologie and Free People, for 3 years,” one Twitter user, Talia, wrote in a recent post. “I worked mostly at the Georgetown location in DC. The terms “Nick/Nicole” were used to specify someone who could be (shoplifting). Most of the time it was used for a Black person.”

“Nick is a term they use to identify anybody who might be a thief,” another person wrote on Twitter. “But to be nicked while black is definitely racial profiling a lot of the time and they DEFINITELY did that while I worked there.”

Another person identifying themselves a former Urban Outfitters employee confirmed that this kind of racial profiling had occurred at the store where they worked.

“I worked at urban outfitters and they would identify people whom they thought would be potential stealers as (usually young black or hispanic kids) Nicks !!!!” they commented on an Instagram post from Diet Prada. “This is very true.”

Black shoppers also took to social media to share their experiences of being profiled in Urban Outfitters stores.

“Every time I step foot into their store with an Afro, or faux locks I get followed by their security and their staff. Literally annoying and unfair,” one person wrote on Instagram.

“I've been followed in stores and then pulled out my discount card and met with shocked faces,” another person shared on Instagram. “Needless to say I haven't bought anything from them since I quit two years ago.”

Urban Outfitters has responded to these allegations, saying the company is “deeply saddened and disturbed” by these reports.

“Urban Outfitters was founded on the values and principles of inclusiveness and cultural understanding,” the company said in a statement to TODAY Style. “We strongly believe that every customer, partner, vendor, employee, and associate should feel welcomed and respected when they walk through our doors. It is clear that there is work for us to do to make that a reality."

The company confirmed that “Nick” and similar names have been used in the past as code names for potential thieves, but that this policy had been “misused.”

“Our shoplifting policy previously instructed associates to use the code names “Nick”/“Nicky”/“Nicole” to identify potential shoplifters,” Urban Outfitters added in its statement. “It has been brought to our attention that this policy was misused. We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the reports of racial profiling in our stores, and we profusely apologize to each and every customer who was made to feel unwelcome. Urban Outfitters absolutely rejects racism, racial discrimination, and profiling of any form, and we have revised our shoplifting prevention policy to eliminate the use of any code words.”

The company also said it is taking measures to improve diversity and inclusion at stores, including conducting a third-party review of store practices, conducting mandatory diversity training in stores and taking steps to attract a more diverse workforce.

These allegations come on the heels of a similar controversy involving Anthropologie, which is owned by the same parent company as Urban Outfitters. Similarly, former Anthropologie employees said the code names “Nick” or “Nicky” had been used to racially profile Black shoppers.

Anthropologie addressed these allegations in a June 11 Instagram post.

“Regarding allegations of racial profiling, we have never and will never have a code word based on a customer’s race or ethnicity,” the retailer wrote. “Our company has a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination or racial profiling in any form. Employees who do not adhere to this policy are subject to disciplinary action which may include termination.”