retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, in a couple of places on MNB, I said that we are at the point where retailers ought to require consumers to wear masks when entering their stores - in essence, "no mask, no service."

I suggested that stores could loan laundered/cleaned masks to people without them, or could take people's lists and to the shopping for them.  But in the end, I said, retailers need to say that their employees' health and other customers' health is the most important thing.

Got a lot of responses.

One MNB reader wrote:

Your challenge to the retailers is interesting. I have a couple sincere questions for you.

With your proposal is the retailer now  expected to “police” appropriate masks and their usage?

How do you suggest EVERYONE who wants to shop in a store get a mask? Last I checked they aren’t available on line etc so a person can’t shop until they can source a legitimate mask?

Are we supposed to think that a scarf or fabric over your mouth and nose is as effective as an N95 mask for instance? 

Shelter in place is a direction from the CDC as well, why are you ok to go to a store everyday? Are you considered an essential business?

I can feel your sincerity - especially in that last question, which I knew I'd get from someone.  The last reference is to the fact that I went to Whole Foods on Sunday and Stew Leonard's on Monday (which was clear because I recorded videos in both places).

The fact is that I mostly went in my role as someone writing about what's going on in the industry … I was there, so I picked up a few things.  But my primary motivation was my work;  it'll be at least another week before I venture out to the store.

(MNB readers are invited to decide for themselves whether I am an essential business.) 

And yes … I think retailers should "police" their stores to make sure that everyone is wearing a mask (the same way they police their stores to make sure everybody is wearing shoes) … I recognize that there seems to be a mask shortage, but a lot of people seem to be making up for that with homemade varieties … I also think that I'd give folks a bit of time before enforcing the rule.

But … in Los Angeles, they've decided to bite the bullet and just go for it.  I agree with the decision.

Besides, some already are doing it.  Got this email from MNB reader Brian Kvistad:

We closed our store to shoppers a little over a week ago, and have moved entirely to BOPIS (or I should probably say BOPFD “Buy Online, Pickup at (our) Front Door”).  We are also now requiring employees to wear (non-medical) masks during their shifts—something that most of them were already doing before we made it mandatory. 

I know of other independent stores across the country that are doing this also.  I also know of other stores who are open to public shopping, but who are requiring masks for customers. 

Certainly it would be nice if the big industry players would do this, but my point here is that you ask in your piece who the “first retailer” would be to take these measures.  I can attest that that ship has already sailed.  There are already a lot of firsts out there in this regard—and most of them are at small, independent, community-minded stores where leadership and staff work closely with each other and are able to adapt to concerns in a more proactive way.  Not huge blips on the industry radar, but very significant in the lives of those communities touched by the dedication of these store owners, leaders, and employees. 

Thanks for your continuing coverage on this.  I appreciate your work and commentary.

One more MNB retailer wrote:

I just heard from my eldest daughter at the dinner table last night of one local independent grocery store in the area that turned away her friend and her mother from entering the store without face covering.  First time I’ve heard of any business enforcing this on customers but if the local, state and federal officials are not going to mandate it the private sector will need to decide whether or not a “voluntary” decision is worth putting customers and associates at risk.

From another reader:

I am all for that.  Makes perfect sense.  Is the store going to provide the mask?  Because I can’t get them anywhere…oh I can order online but arrival is somewhere between May 3 and 31st.  The local convenience store/smoke shop has a few for $4.99 each (rip off).  Yes I can use a bandanna (don’t have that) or make one out of a coffee filter or napkin (Keurig- no filters).  So the problem of finding masks and gloves needs to be solved as well.

From another reader:

I'm in agreement.  Where can we get masks though……?

And another:

Wholeheartedly agree except for one big problem. Where the heck is one going to find a mask to buy and what about us guys who do not know how to make a mask? I have been checking every imaginable retailer for 4 weeks to find 2 masks, one for my bride and one for me. Most manufactured masks are going to the medical profession. Yes they are on eBay for totally usurious prices. Is a bandana going to be an acceptable substitute as a mask? Where can you find a place to buy a bandana? Heck unless you are a cowboy, a farmer or work on a farm, most urbanites would not even know what a bandana is. Several retailers here in the Portland area have been enforcing social distancing and only let X amount of people in the store, 1 out 1 in, 3 out 3 in etc.  Also some retailers have cut back on the number of grocery carts are available for use.  I think the retailers here in Oregon are doing really well in their choices for a safe shopping experience for their customers, plus the people have been practicing social distancing for several weeks. 

No argument.   We're also using scarves.  Whatever works.  I'm prepared to be creative … because I don't want to freakin' die.

Yet another MNB retailer wrote:

I understand not coming in without a mask but after checking multiple sites and calling numerous retailers, they will not have masks until May or June. Does my family not eat until then? Grocery deliveries in my area are not available until late April.

And from another:

Kevin, that assumes everyone can get a mask!  Then what about the homemade versions?   Someone is going to look at everyone coming in the door and then pass judgement on whether the handiwork applied passes as acceptable or does anything go?   I don’t disagree with the thought, but the implementation is tricky and ripe for issues and conflict.  If the retailer provides a mask at the door, then that would be an awesome solution, but good luck getting masks right now! 

I get it.  This rule would not be easy.  

But people are at risk.  Hard moves have to be made.

From another reader:

Great idea on masks, but where exactly would we get some to hand out to customers? We ordered washable, reusable masks for staff weeks ago and are still waiting on shipment. We were able to get some simple disposable ones in the meantime for staff, but those are dwindling. We are putting out a call to our shoppers who want to thank our employees to make masks for staff. We are strongly encouraging shoppers to adopt safe behaviors and even put ourselves out there FIRST before the bigger chains did about this with our local media. 

We are not a large retailer like Kroger, we have 4 stores and our director team has been managing this crisis in realtime, putting up screens at registers and service counters, encouraging and supporting employees that are elderly, high-risk or have day care issues, pulling together a curbside pickup program and more. 

I spoke with a friend this week who works for Walgreens corporate. They have an entire response team yet still, they don’t have screens in place at registers. Grocers aren’t the only essential store in our state. Hardware stores are considered essential, like Lowes, but what are they doing? 

I never, never thought this would be my job a month ago - to lay away at night hoping that none of my coworkers die because we can’t do enough. 

One MNB reader wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly that retailers should begin enforcing mandatory masks in their buildings for all employees, DSD contacts and consumers.

Until we are truly past this pandemic infection risk, why would you not have this. All employers have indicated their #1 priority is the safety of their employees.

Given that, it is very appropriate and reasonable to expect and then for all of the population to support this type of measure.

And another:

I fully agree with your assessment and suggestion.  I was in a Safeway on Sunday and intentionally counted how many customers were wearing face masks  It was just over 20 with upwards of 60 or more people shopping at the time.  Of the store employees I saw, only two were wearing masks.  Even though I had mine on I did feel I was still at risk. 

One MNB reader wrote:

I’m all for it. We’ve been throwing around the term “essential workers” for weeks. Time to put your mask where your mouth (and nose) are! The companies that do will earn good will and those that must shop will appreciate it too. 

From another reader:

HEAR HEAR!  (It kind of reminds me of the words of Tracy Morgan’s 30 Rock Tracy Jordan character, when he says, “Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even when the wrong thing would be a whole lot easier.”)

And from another reader:

Agree 100% Kevin.  Grocery workers are putting their own health on the line everyday.  While every company appreciates the greatly increased sales, and the employees are enjoying the extra hours and money; they need to be protected.  Wearing a mask is a small price to pay.  The mask is not to protect the person wearing it, but to protect those around them, especially the supermarket workers who day in and day out are exposed to people potentially pre-symptomatic the COVID-19.

And still another:

Can’t help wonder why supermarket chains don’t have people handing out masks as people enter the store. It is an easy solution! This certainly would help keep everyone, from the shoppers to store employees, protected.

MNB reader Ron Johnston wrote:

Right on, Kevin. It’s about time!

MNB reader Jessica Perri wrote:

Love your blog. I work in consumer insights and live in Chicago. My colleague from China told me this past weekend she went to the supermarket in Chinatown to pick up some things and before you enter the market, they: 

  1. Check your temperature

2) Give everyone disposable gloves to wear in the store 

I was amazed by this because it's businesses like this who are making a difference in the community and now I want to shop there (even though it's requiring me to bridge out of my comfort zone). Wanted to share! 

And finally, from MNB reader Eric Carlson:

Kevin, entirely agree with you. First retailer who requires customers (and employees) to wear masks will be scared to do it. But somebody should. Holding them back:

•  People like my father-in-law (who works at a grocer store) are convinced that you have to be in close contact with someone for a full ten minutes before you can catch the virus.

•  Concern that customers and/or employees will perceive that something is wrong with that particular store.

•  The "President"  says wearing a mask is a choice, and you don't have to wear one if you don't want to.