Should face masks be mandatory for shoppers?

Photo: @beachbumledford via Twenty20
May 04, 2020

Costco last week became the first major retailer to require that all customers wear face coverings.

“Costco employees are required to wear face coverings, and now we are asking that Costco members do so too,” said Craig Jelinek, president and CEO, in a blog entry. “We know some members may find this inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience. This is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not just the wearer, but others too.”

He further added that while “some may disagree with this policy or question its effectiveness, we’re choosing to err on the side of safety in our shopping environments.”

The CDC recommends that people wear face coverings in public settings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Costco joins SpartanNash, Menards and Meijer among the few larger retailers making masks mandatory.

Some retailers, including Walmart, H-E-B and Home Depot, are encouraging, but not requiring, customers to wear masks. Whole Foods last week began encouraging customers to wear masks and said it would distribute free, disposable masks for those without one. Most retailers have no mask policy for customers.

New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois are among a number of states requiring people to wear masks when visiting grocers and other businesses. Major cities, including Miami and Los Angeles, have similar ordinances, as do some smaller towns.

Wearing masks has become a political hot potato as reopen rallies have erupted across the country calling for a reduction of COVID-19 restrictions to support the economy. Many protesters assert being ordered to wear masks violates constitutional law.

Business Insider reported that some calls surfaced on social media for a boycott of Costco following the wholesale club’s move. On Friday, the town of Stillwater, OK abandoned a requirement that people wear face coverings in local businesses after violent threats were made against retail and restaurant employees.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should stores require, recommend or forgo policies regarding wearing masks inside stores amid the pandemic? How should shoppers that do not follow in-store social distancing guidelines established by authorities or businesses be managed?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Of course retailers ought to require masks inside the store. I hope this isn't a serious question in anybody's mind. "
"This is pretty simple. Have enough consideration and respect for fellow citizens to wear a mask. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable but so is being hooked up to a ventilator."
"Requiring masks is the least retailers can do to try and keep employees safe. “Recommending” masks leaves too much open to interpretation and selective enforcement."

Join the Discussion!

53 Comments on "Should face masks be mandatory for shoppers?"

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Neil Saunders

In the absence of government orders, I think this is up to each individual company to determine. Customers should respect those policies and, if masks are required, not put staff in the difficult position of having to confront them for not wearing them. Given the patchwork of different policies, communication and signage should be clear. Ideally, retailers requiring masks should give them out to customers who don’t have them as it can still be hard to acquire them.

My only issue with masks is that some people wearing them seem to think it means they are invincible which leads to social distancing being ignored. That is undesirable. People need to wear masks and keep their distance.

Mark Ryski

Retailers have an obligation to provide a safe environment for the employees and shoppers. Ultimately every retailer will need to make their own decisions about how they choose to provide a safe environment – regardless of how politically incorrect or unfavorable with the public. While it’s true that face masks are not foolproof for minimizing virus transmission, it is widely believed that they provide some protection. Furthermore, countries that have had the best results in minimizing spread, such as South Korea, have adopted a face masks en masse. Retailers should post their policies clearly at the entrance of their stores and assign personnel to ensure the policy is being met. If some customers don’t feel comfortable with or don’t agree with face masks, they are free to shop at other stores.

Bob Phibbs

If you’re going to require them, make sure it is clearly stated at all entrances and on social media. It is not a minimum wage workers job to “get into it” with a shopper. Again, without national direction this whole subject is a quagmire.

Al McClain

First, it’s sad that we have so quickly reached the point where some of us are unwilling to put up with a little inconvenience (masks), to try to reduce the ever growing death count from COVID-19. With that as the new reality, however, I think Costco has it right. Recommending and asking customers to wear masks and put some distance between each other is the best approach. For those customers who are aggressive about not distancing, I guess calling the police would be the next option, although, that didn’t work out too well in NYC this weekend. What a state we are in. Sigh.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 7 months ago

The decision for retailers to require face masks is tricky and it may be a state by state decision instead of a national chain decision. With the recent news of 81 employees in a Walmart store in Massachusetts testing positive for coronavirus, more retail chains may take a more aggressive stance on face masks. Out of respect for the safety of employees and other shoppers, I don’t think it is unreasonable for stores to require employees and shoppers to wear face masks. It has prompted protests and boycotts of some chains, but it is the right thing to do at this stage of the pandemic.

Scott Norris

This should be the klaxon call for all retailers – yes, it can happen to you and yes, you are liable for the health of your employees. Smart insurance companies should be demanding their clients take every precaution, including masks, as the potential for class-action lawsuits is now rising as fast as the infection counts.

Ben Ball

Either require them or say nothing. “Recommending” will only lead to complaints from both shoppers who want everyone in masks and those who don’t want to wear one period.

Ron Margulis

I’m not a lawyer, but it certainly seems the potential for legal action against retailers who knowingly allow the spread of COVID-19 that results in sickness and deaths is huge. In terms of risk mitigation, it’s a no-brainer.

Casey Golden
1 year 7 months ago

It should be mandatory – full stop. Given the legal and ethical implications and the reality of the situation, it is too great of risk to be on the fence. No shirt, no shoes, no mask – no service.

Paula Rosenblum

Sometimes I feel like we’re a nation of spoiled brats. We misunderstand liberty for stupidity.

Aside from that, if you’re not going to require a mask, you should require your customers to sign a waiver holding the retailer harmless if while not wearing a mask, a person either gets infected or infects others.

Jeff Sward

This is pretty simple. Have enough consideration and respect for fellow citizens to wear a mask. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable but so is being hooked up to a ventilator. We are all anxious to get out and about again, and I guess retail is about to behave like a “Wild West” of different rules and regulations. I’ll wear a mask and shop where it is safest. Retailers and customers can all make what they think are informed decisions, but it would still be great if respect ruled the day.

Peter Charness

Yes, while risks surrounding this disease are still not completely known, what a small ask of shoppers to protect themselves and make more comfortable and safer the store team who are helping them.

Ken Morris

Face masks need to be required. We need to protect our most vulnerable and many states who have not experienced the heartache of the peak don’t understand what could happen to them. Herd immunity is an aspiration that will require an enormous body count. We need to be cautious at least for the next month to see how this thing morphs. A vaccine is, at best, a year away from universal availability no matter what we hear from Washington.

Suresh Chaganti

In Illinois it is mandatory now. It is a public policy for the greater good. Wearing a cloth mask will not protect you, but will protect others if you are an asymptomatic carrier.

Phil Rubin

Living in Atlanta, we are on the front line of businesses reopening and I had an interesting experience this weekend which I’ll post about separately. Bottom line: I went to a big box retailer where a number of shoppers and associates were not wearing masks and I found it completely unacceptable. There was no signage other than a request for social distancing at the returns counter.

All the research clearly shows that consumers are reluctant to return to stores, evidenced by Harris reporting that 89 percent have “concerns about shopping” in-store.

While it’s up to each store to establish its own guidelines, those that fail to demonstrate a recognition of consumers’ concerns about safety and security will not get the traffic that Costco and others will.

Safety and security are the new loyalty currencies.

Ralph Jacobson

Store should require or recommend face coverings at least until the world feels this crisis has passed. If the store only recommends, the other shoppers may be intimidated and choose not to shop there. Store staff needs to monitor and politely remind shoppers of the guidelines.