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Mask Mandate | 15% of retailers predict positive impact

From Tuesday 30th of November, mandatory facemasks came into force from Health Secretary Sajid Javid. The new rules aim to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. Masks are required on public transport and many indoor public places, including convenience stores and supermarkets but excluding restaurants. We surveyed 138 retailers to understand their feelings towards new restrictions; they were grouped and surveyed further based on whether they felt the impact would be positive or negative.

FIGURE 1: What impact do you think mandatory Face Masks will have on your business?
FIGURE 2: Where do you think the impact will be most felt?

When asked 'what kind of impact do you think that mandatory Face Masks will have on your business?' a minority of retailers (15%) voted that it would positively impact them [Figure 1]. The largest group of retailers believed that they would feel no impact from the new restrictions (47%).

While (15%) thought positively about the situation, another group of retailers (38%) felt that the mask rulings would harm their business while a larger group of retailers (47%) said that they expect no impact at all.

We were interested to find out the biggest cause of concern for retailers who are anticipating a negative impact. Most of these stores (51%) reported that interactions between staff and customers was their main concern. In comparison, other retailers (44%) said that footfall would be impacted the most, perhaps due to staff turning away customers without masks or more general safety concerns from the public. Basket Spend and other concerns didn't appear to be common issues that retailers are focusing on. [Figure 2]

'Masks should be mandatory; it helps both our staff and customers to have a safe, carefree experience when shopping at our store'
Premier store from the South East

We can see that when asked whether retailers were generally unlikely to enforce the face mask mandate in their stores, 64% reporting that they would not be enforcing the new rules [Figure 4]. While 36% of retailers said they would enforce the rules, a significantly smaller group, 11% said that they believed it was their responsibility to enforce the mandate. [Figure 3]

This sentiment is not exclusive to convenience. A variety of UK supermarket chains, including the Coop, have announced that they will not be enforcing the mask mandate in stores in an effort to keep their staff safe from escalating levels of violence.

FIGURE 3: Do you think that it is your responsibility to enforce the face mask mandate in your store?
FIGURE 4: Will you be enforcing the face mask mandate in your store?
'We have seen throughout the pandemic that the enforcement of social distancing rules has been a flashpoint for enormous levels of violence...'
Paul Gerrard - Coop Policy Director (speaking to Radio 5 Live)
FIGURE 5: Positive Response | Are you worried about the new Omicron COVID Variant?
FIGURE 6: Negative Response | Are you worried about the new Omicron COVID Variant?

When we asked retailers whether they were worried about the new Omicron variant in general, it was notable that most retailers who said they were NOT worried about Omicron were also those retailers who felt that the new mandate about face masks would have a negative impact on their business.

Whichever side is right is yet to be seen. Previous lockdowns have proven to be fruitful for the independent sector, who stepped up and provided a vital life-line to their local communities but more recent developments, such as stock and staff shortages could make the situation more complicated. We'll continue to report on our analysis as the situation develops in the coming months.

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