Face Masks in Stores – The Retail Conundrum

Face Masks in Stores - The Retail Conundrum

As non-essential stores begin to reopen their doors, many retailers are facing a difficult choice – whether or not to enforce the wearing of face coverings. The UK government's guidelines don't offer much in the way of clarity – it's not considered a legal requirement to wear masks in stores unless the 2 metre social distancing rule cannot be met. But while there may be space enough in some stores to stick to the 2m rule, the British public don't always seem to follow the guidelines as recent scenes of beaches during last week's heatwave have shown.

Major stores such as Debenhams, Marks & Spencer & Next are not requiring customers to wear masks, although shop assistants will be wearing face coverings or protective visors, and many are creating one-way layouts to aid customers in following the social distancing guidelines. But for smaller stores or boutiques where distancing isn't always possible a choice must be made – should customers who refuse to wear a face mask be refused entry?

We asked this question to hundreds of Boutique owners who regularly buy wholesale fashion at TradeGala and the response was mixed at best. Our survey results showed a clear preference for prohibiting entry to anyone not wearing a mask (86% of respondents), but when our sales team spoke to boutique owners directly, the majority said that they would allow customers in their stores without face coverings. It's not difficult to understand the discrepancy - while the majority of small business owners want to enforce the government recommendation, when it comes down to it (and in the face of 2 months of lost sales) many may feel unable to reject potential business, even if it comes with risks. And with so many videos circulating online of irate customers causing scenes or even spitting at shop attendants when confronted about not wearing a mask, some may think it's simply not worth creating a potentially volatile situation.

In the absence of stricter rules from the government, retailers will need to follow their own conscience to do what they think is best for both their staff and customers. The good news is that confidence in the high street is returning, with 53% of shoppers agreeing that retailers are doing enough to protect the public from the spread of Coronavirus, while the number of consumers who said they are avoiding shops where possible has dropped by 10% since the previous week. As things slowly start getting back to normal, we all want to avoid a second wave and a possible step backwards in the progress we've made. Store owners will undoubtedly have this at the forefront of their minds when deciding how to proceed.

Written by Amber Domenech Patey

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