Anti-mask shoppers find themselves publicly shamed

Sources: Twitter/@ItsRellzWorld; Twitter/@CaliCoCo3
Jul 01, 2020
Tom Ryan

Videos and photos of in-store shoppers purportedly behaving badly have been going viral on social media for years, but the occurrences have spiked in recent weeks as some shoppers rebel against face mask mandates.

Last Friday, a woman at a North Hollywood Trader Joe’s was filmed cursing, slamming her shopping basket to the ground and calling employees and shoppers “Democratic pigs” when confronted about not wearing a mask. She is heard saying mask mandates violate federal laws. Millions watched the video on social media over the weekend with the incident earning widespread news coverage.

She later told an ABC News affiliate she had permission from the manager to shop without a mask, has a medical condition and was cursed by a male shopper for not wearing one. Trader Joe’s said her story was false and that a manager offered to shop for her while she waited outside, but she refused.

Two days earlier, a woman attempted to publicly shame a barista at a Starbucks in San Diego with a Facebook post after he asked if she had a mask. The women wrote in her post, “Meet Lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption.” She took a picture of him wearing a face mask and included it in the post.

The post led to an outpouring of support for the barista. A GoFundMe page, entitled “Tips for Lenin Standing Up To A San Diego Karen” started by a stranger has raised over $100,000. The barista plans to use the funds to pursue his dream of teaching dance and donating to the San Diego community.

Other incidents include a man trying to fight his way into an Orlando Walmart after being told of a mask requirement, a group of shoppers in a Staten Island ShopRite vilifying an unmasked shopper until she left and a Costco employee calmly escorting a man refusing to wear a mask from the store.

Retailers generally respond to such incidents by restating their mask policy.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the viral shaming of shoppers who refuse to wear masks on social media more of a positive or negative development for retailers? How should and can stores respond?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"This is not a matter of dressing poorly. It’s a matter of being a disease spreader."
"Instead of stressing about viral videos (which are generally out of their control), retailers should create a strategy to get their brand highlighted in meme culture."
"The employees are just doing their job and enforcing company/local policy — it’s terrible to take it out on them."

Join the Discussion!

38 Comments on "Anti-mask shoppers find themselves publicly shamed"

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Neil Saunders

This is really, really simple.

A retail store is private property. Within the law, private property owners have the right to set whatever policies they wish for those entering their premises. This includes an obligation to wear a mask. If you don’t like those policies then you are free not to shop there and to go elsewhere. If you do want to shop there, you abide by the policies.

It is a great shame that so many people don’t understand this and are unable to show respect for retailers and the staff working there. Some of the responses seen on social media are plain ugly and downright criminal. It is both shocking and saddening to see.

Brandon Rael

Spot on as always Neil!

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
9 months 13 days ago

Well said, Neil, and so true.

Ed Rosenbaum

Well said, Neil.

Mark Ryski

Shaming is negative in almost any context. In the world we live today, confrontations like these will most certainly be captured on phones and posted. These acts of reckless ignorance are sad and disgraceful, and frontline employees should not be subjected to this type of abuse. The best approach retailers can take is to post clear guidelines at the entrance of their stores – no masks, no service. Period. Given how aggressive and emotional some shoppers feel about the issue, I urge retailers to apply additional security at the entrance of the store to minimize confrontations inside the store.

Richard Hernandez

I have seen a lot of these videos over the past few days. In my state, the counties that have the largest renewed spikes in COVID-19 asked the governor about implementing a mask requirement for their county, and the governor has not denied any of those requests. As much as some people don’t like the requirement (especially at restaurants and gyms) people need to know there is value in wearing a mask to help curb new cases. I have also seen where customers have acted badly and taken it out on the employees — when the rule is not the employees’ fault. They are only adhering to the rules mandated by the county. Acting like a fool isn’t going to accomplish anything other than that person being slammed on social media. Stores need to continue following rules and monitoring that customers are adhering to them. Those that don’t or can’t should not be allowed into the stores.

Dr. Stephen Needel

In fairness, I’ve shamed shoppers at my local stores who do not wear masks, especially the idiot at Kroger the other day who was coughing and not wearing a mask. Regardless of whether people like it or not, it is an anti-social act to not wear a mask. Retailers should relish social media conflicts – it’s free advertising – as long as they are handling the problem as nicely and politely as the people at Gelson’s clearly did.

Ralph Jacobson

I am still for individual choice. We are all adults. This goes for both shoppers and store operators. We have the right to not shop at stores that do not enforce mask wearing. We also have the right to not wear masks. In rural areas, there is no shame nor much reason to wear masks. The news reports only on urban areas. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Even within the same state, Manhattan should have different guidelines than rural upstate NY. Trouble is, few elected leaders understand this.

Dick Seesel

So is a crowded bar full of unmasked customers in a rural area any less risky than a crowded bar full of unmasked customers in Houston? Can you guarantee that everyone in that bar (or restaurant, or store) is virus-free? Is the contact tracing up to speed so you know that none of those bar patrons were recently in an urban “hot zone” for the virus?

Yes, there is less population density in rural areas (and therefore fewer outbreaks) but there are no moats or invisible fences around those areas.

Ralph Jacobson
Hi, Dick, can I guarantee everyone is virus-free? Nope. There are no guarantees in life, sorry. However I can say that intelligent social distancing can help and is much easier to accomplish in rural areas vs. urban areas. I live in a rural area, and there are three active COVID-19 cases in our county that stretches more than 200 miles across. Interesting how there have been no reports of outbreaks stemming from all the crowded supermarkets, mass discounters and DIY stores that have never closed during this crisis. We are getting fully two-thirds of cases from inside people’s homes, according to a .ppt slide I saw Gov. Cuomo present on one of his press briefings. Gotta get outta the house! Will I jump into a pile of people in a crowded local bar regardless of where it is located? Nope. But I guess I’m suggesting them leveraging of a bit of common sense. That does seem to be on short supply these days. I love this discussion, though. Great to see some pulse from the… Read more »
9 months 12 days ago

Most cases in rural areas have been traced to “outside visitors” who come from an urban area and visit friends or family in the rural area and pass the virus on to the rural friends/family after an extended visit.

The cases in rural areas are not because someone in a big city stopped off in a rural Walmart to buy some snacks and use the restroom — that is not how this is spreading in the rural areas.

Ryan Mathews
Politicizing the workplace is never a good idea and, make no mistake, these incidents are political. Retailers need to obey local public health and safety regulations and have an obligation to protect both employees and customers. If that means making everyone comply with mask regulations, so be it. Now since retail stores have become the latest battlefield in the culture wars there will be customers that — for whatever reason — refuse to wear a mask and demand to be served. In the case of a genuine medical issue, shopping for a customer is the best alternative. Video shaming is never a good idea. Attention is exactly what most of these “mask protesters” want, and giving them digital air time just encourages them and others to continue their disruptive behaviors. In addition, it may make the rest of your customers worried that going to your store may result in appearing in an ugly Instagram post and create problems for your staff up to, and including, assault. So the best bet is to familiarize yourself with… Read more »
Dick Seesel

If a store has the right to say, “No shoes, no shirt, no service” — for public health reasons! — then it has the same right to expect its customers to wear masks. Neil is correct that private businesses should be able to exclude customers as long as the reasons aren’t discriminatory.

It’s sad that a simple, common-sense public health precaution was politicized to the point where customers are warring with each other, and with store associates just trying to do their jobs. Not wearing a mask, in a setting where you are asked to do so, is not some sort of statement about your political freedom — it’s just plain rude, and arguably dangerous given the rising outbreaks.

Al McClain

Yet another way in which the US has handled the pandemic worse than any other country in the world. This is what happens in the absence of governmental leadership: we are all left to fend for ourselves, with predictable results.

Gene Detroyer

The retailers should follow their protocols, no exception. If a situation gets violent, they should do their best to de-escalate.

Otherwise I am all for the shoppers taking photos and videos of those who do not wear masks. There are consequences to decisions people make and if this is one of the consequences, so be it. You asked for it. You chose to be just plain selfish and have no regard for your fellow human beings.

And if that is not a good enough reason to wear a mask, Goldman Sachs just came out with a study that a national mask mandate could save the economy $1 trillion.

Jeff Sward

It shouldn’t be that difficult for people to express their own point of view AND have enough respect for other people to do the exact same thing. Don’t want to wear a mask? Shop at a like-minded retailer with like-minded customers. If you want to shop at a store requiring a mask? Pretty simple to put on a mask. It’s not exactly a hazmat suit. The states with discipline have a wildly different curve than states that thought haircuts and beach outings were the priority. Now who has more “freedom?” And who can expect a quicker and longer term rebound in the local economy?

Paula Rosenblum

Well, this may not be a popular opinion, but I am all for shaming those who don’t wear masks. This is not a matter of dressing poorly. It’s a matter of being a disease spreader.

Shaming is fine by me. I have no interest in dying to be polite. I reported an Instacart driver who was unmasked and tell anyone I see not wearing one in public to put one on.

It’s our only recourse to stupidity. Sorry.

Suresh Chaganti

I don’t think viral shaming will mean anything meaningful to the retailers. It will be a localized, minor disturbance at the time of the incident. We see the “customer from hell” type of videos from time to time. These are no different.

Nikki Baird
When talking to Aptos customers about how they planned to handle this, by far the majority opinion was that they did not want to force their employees to be “enforcers.” They would provide masks as much as they could to people who don’t have them, and they would ask people to wear masks, but would not take direct enforcement action unless store associates’ safety was threatened. However, with rising numbers of cases and the risk of infection spiraling out of control, the stakes are higher than ever. Masks are the reason why stores could possibly be open in the first place. I think retailers need to be very blunt and use a very large font on signs at entrances to set expectations: to come inside, you MUST wear a mask. If you’re not able to wear a mask, call this number and we will help you shop. If you enter the store without a mask, you will be trespassing and told to leave. If you do not leave or become belligerent, the police will be… Read more »
Lee Peterson

I frankly don’t get it, either one; the shaming or especially the refusal to wear a mask. The thing everyone has to realize is that it’s about being courteous and potentially (because who knows?) saving some lives or protecting others from severe sickness. Maybe less shaming and more explaining that it has nothing to do with “freedom” but more about someone not killing someone’s mother/grandmother. It feels like some education needs to happen more than anything. C’mon, America, let’s be civil!

David Weinand

The use of social media for public shaming, in general, is not great for our society. There is just nowhere that a line can be drawn as to what is acceptable and what is not. That said, retailers have the right to put policies in place that are best for their staff and customers. If there is no other way to get these people using masks as a political statement to get in line with policies (which, from what I’ve seen, seems to be the case), it’s a tool that must be used.