How Retailers Encourage Face Masks In-Store

Walmart teaches employees how to respond when customers arrive without a face covering.

July 23, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—To help halt the spread of COVID-19, mask-wearing is being mandated in many parts of the country, and where it’s not, many businesses are establishing their own policies aimed at protecting employees and customers. Still, retailers face the burning question of how to approach customers who do not wish to wear masks in their stores.

According to Bloomberg, Walmart has advice for its new “Health Ambassadors,” those employees who have the task of reminding shoppers to wear masks. Those tips are:

  • Stay calm
  • Listen intently
  • Show understanding.
  • If customers insist on walking in without one, staffers should just get out of the way.

The two-minute, animated video, which was obtained by Bloomberg, teaches employees how to deal with customers who won’t wear a mask. The video explains that that not all customers can wear a mask due to age, health conditions or religious reasons.

“If a customer tells you they can’t for one of these reasons, listen and tell them you understand,” says the video, which is dated July 13, just two days before Walmart decided to require that all customers wear masks regardless of local mandates. “And thank them for shopping at Walmart.”

When a customer who won’t wear a mask or provide a valid reason for not donning one tries to enter a store, Health Ambassadors should simply allow the mask-less customer inside and alert a member of management to determine the next steps, which are not detailed.

“Never engage with a customer physically,” the video says. “Do not block their entrance or attempt to stop them. Never ask a customer to explain their health condition, religious reason or any other reason they give for not wearing a face mask.”

Other national retailers, including Target, CVS Health, Starbucks, Best Buy, Pet Smart, GetGo, Kroger and Office Depot have announced similar policies requiring all customers to wear masks in stores. In a memo to employees, which was viewed by Business Insider, Office Depot outlined how to avoid aggressive confrontations with shoppers who are not wearing masks. The memo urges employees to remain calm and not to cross their arms or “frown” at unmasked shoppers. If a customer becomes physically or verbally aggressive, employees are advised to walk away.

According to a recent survey by The Harris Poll, 76% of Americans support businesses enforcing their own mask policies.

“At Office Depot, the well-being of our customers and employees is always a priority,” the retailer said in a statement on its website referencing the new mask policy. “We thank you for your patience and understanding as we all work together to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.