31 July 2020, 09:54 AM
  • Footfall dropped over the weekend, but experts say there isn’t “conclusive evidence” regarding the impact of the latest face mask rules
As masks become mandatory, retailers report few issues but footfall dips

Face coverings have officially become mandatory for shoppers in England, and according to reports from the Association of Convenience Stores, retailers said that the majority of customers wore masks while in store, and no major incidents were reported during the first few days of implementation.

The rules, which came into effect on Friday 24th July, require customers to wear a face covering in shops, including in cafés or food and drink shops when customers are not eating on the premises.

There was initially some confusion around the regulations as the government only released its full guidance 12 hours before they came into effect, but the regulations include exemptions for children under the age of 11, those with disabilities or certain health conditions and for members of staff, though the government strongly recommends that employers consider using face coverings where appropriate.

Shoppers who don’t abide by the rules could be faced with a fine of up to £100, but there are still some question marks around enforcement as retailers including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Costa Coffee have said they will not challenge customers who are not wearing masks in their stores. A poll conducted on social media by ConvenienceStore.co.uk found that over half (55.3%) would serve a customer as normal if they came into their store without a face mask. Of the respondents, 42.1% said they would refuse to serve the person, while just 2.6% said they would call the police.

Tom Ironside, director of business & regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said retailers will play their role in communicating and encouraging the new policy. “While enforcement of this policy will be handled by the police, the ultimate responsibility remains with customers who must ensure that they wear a face covering when going into stores. Our shopping experience is changing, and we ask customers to be respectful and considerate when the new rules come into force tomorrow.”

Retailers were hopeful that the face covering rule would boost consumer confidence, which has waned amid the pandemic. However, data from Springboard revealed a slight drop in footfall on the day it became mandatory to wear face masks in shops.

On Friday and Saturday, footfall in all retail destinations fell by an average of 1.7%, and England was the only nation where footfall declined on those two days. Despite the dip, footfall across all UK retail destinations rose over the week by 4.4%, a similar rise to the previous week.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said the data didn’t provide “conclusive evidence” on the impact of the face mask rules: “Last week delivered another first – the first time that wearing a face covering became mandatory in retail stores and enclosed destinations in England.

“The first few days of the latest government guidelines has not yet delivered conclusive evidence of its impact on activity in bricks and mortar destinations, however it is positive news for retailers that the annual performance is continuing to improve.”

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