The use of facemasks in retail: our data shows disparity between US and UK stores

Article by Martyn Jones | 27th April 2021

When we look back on the pandemic, certain things will immediately spring to mind. We will remember the scarcity of some products during early panic-buying. The experience of queuing outdoors in all weathers. Shops closed for months on end, or open for collection only. Above all though, we will remember facemasks. 

The issue of mask wearing has become symbolic of our entire attitude towards the virus. As such, facemasks often elicit a strong emotional response. For some, they are an essential part of the fight against the disease. For others, they are an imposition- an attack on personal freedom. Every year the librarians of Yale Law School compile a list of the quotes that best embody the last 12 months. Their top quote of 2020 was simply, “Wear a mask”.

The US enthusiastically adopts masks

America is the land of rugged individualism- a place where personal freedom is prized above all else. The messaging from previous US governments has been mixed, with former President Trump often expressing doubts about their effectiveness. However, US shoppers have enthusiastically adopted mask-wearing. 

US shoppers adopt mask-wearing in greater numbers than the UK: 

  • By June 2020, 65% of US adults wore a mask to go shopping. In the UK, this figure was closer to 20%.
  • In August 2020, this number had risen to 85%

There is a greater political dimension to mask wearing in the US. While UK mask wearing is fairly consistent across all demographics, it varies in the US according to political allegiance. In July 2020, 94% of Democrats said that they always or usually wore a mask, compared to 46% of Republicans. 

There is also more of a gender divide in the states. 83% of women said that they always or usually wear a mask in public, compared to just 63% of men. 

A slow start in the UK

Compared to other European countries, the UK public were slow to adopt mask wearing. By May 2020, between 65% and 85% of people in Spain, France and Germany were wearing masks in public. In the UK, this figure hovered around 20% until June 2020. 

There are several possible explanations for this. The pandemic hit the UK relatively late, perhaps creating a false sense of security. The UK government also didn’t make facemasks mandatory in shops until the 24th July. 

Despite the slow start, the UK public seems to have fully embraced mask wearing. Rising infection rates and clearer government messaging have led to the widespread normalisation of facemasks:

  • The percentage of people who always wear a mask in public rose from 16% at the end of June 2020 to 55% a month later. 
  • During the same period, the percentage of people who never wear a mask in public fell from 50% to 15%
  • Since summer 2020, the percentage of people who wear a mask at least some of the time has never fallen below 80%

What do customers care about in 2021? Download our report to find out:

Facemask rules will affect consumer behaviour in the future

Despite their differences, UK and US shoppers agree that mandatory mask wearing will be a major factor in their future shopping decisions: 

  • 64% would change their shopping habits if mask wearing remained mandatory.
  • 37% would only shop if it was really necessary. 
  • Only 5% would stop shopping in store altogether, while 12% would actually shop more frequently. 
  • 28% of shoppers in both countries said that having to wear a mask was their top frustration with in-store shopping. 

Read the full report here:

VoCoVo helps you to make safety a priority

Whether or not facemasks become a long-term part of the shopping experience, safety is sure to remain a key concern. Even after the danger has passed, customer anxieties are likely to persist. Experts believe that many people have developed a phobia of crowded spaces which could last for years. A  recent ONS survey found that risk-averse behaviour will continue long after the pandemic is over:

  • 38% of UK adults will avoid crowded spaces. 
  • 23% will avoid public transport.
  • 21% will shop online to avoid supermarket crowds.

This last statistic is particularly worrying as it suggests that safety concerns could cause a long-term loss of footfall for retailers. Our own research backed this up. 28% of customers said that they had stopped shopping at a store because it didn’t feel safe. 

In order to retain customers in the post-COVID world, you will have to make safety a priority. This means enforcing social distancing, reducing queuing times and preventing overcrowding. This is where VoCoVo can help:

  • Headsets enable proactive queue management. If an area becomes too crowded, colleagues can call for help immediately.
  • Headsets allow you to authorise self-checkout purchases while keeping your distance from customers. 
  • Call Points let customers speak to colleges without queueing.
  • Checkout colleagues can use keypads to call for help without holding up the queue. 

With the pandemic fresh in our minds, many customers will take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to shopping. With VoCoVo’s help, you can respect their wishes without sacrificing customer service.

Get in touch today to find out more.

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