As cases of COVID-19 continue to surge across the country, major retail chains have started requiring shoppers to wear masks, even in places where it is not mandated by local law. Reactions to these new requirements have varied from company to company.

Background

  • While a handful of stores, like Costco, have required masks for months, most retail chains began adopting mask requirements in mid-July.
  • Customer responses to these new mask policies have been mixed – some praise retail chains for keeping shoppers safe, while others view mask requirements as an infringement on personal liberties.
  • The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and other major chains, has called on governors to make face coverings mandatory across the country, claiming that different laws in different states and counties have led to mass confusion.

Key Takeaway

  • Companies that have made a statement requiring masks in their stores have seen an average 8.9% increase in positive media mentions and an average 11.3% decrease in negative mentions.

Using insights from the Zignal Media Intelligence Cloud, which analyzes mentions across the entire media spectrum, we took a closer look at how different companies’ mask statements have been received and influenced by the public.

Company Response: Costco

Mask requirement announced on May 4; additional attention on July 15 when Walmart announced mask requirements.

Costco was one of the first retailers to require face masks be worn by employees and customers.

May 4: Costco announces its mandatory mask policy. While many customers support the decision, #boycottcostco quickly starts to trend (over 39,000 mentions), with many customers threatening to cancel their memberships in order to preserve their constitutional rights.

July 15: After Walmart releases its statement about mask requirements, Costco is frequently referenced as one of the first major retailers to require facial coverings in stores.

Outcome: Although Costco initially received considerable backlash after installing a mandatory mask requirement, #boycottcostco did not continue to trend for long after the announcement.

Company Response: Foot Locker

Footlocker announced on July 17 that it will not ask employees to enforce a mask mandate.

Foot Locker is one of the few major retailers to state that it will not enforce a mask policy, citing concern for workers. The company has posted signs at store entrances that ask customers to wear masks, but that it “will not enforce or deny entrance to customers who choose not to wear one.” Foot Locker does, however, require masks in places where mandated by law.

July 17: CEO Dick Johnson tells the Financial Times that he is “not willing to put [his employees] at
risk,” pointing to incidents at other retailers where associates have been injured while trying to stop aggressive customers from entering without a mask.

Outcome: Foot Locker’s mask policy has not triggered a significant reaction. In the week following the announcement, there have been just 43 (mostly neutral) mentions of the issue across news, blog, and social media platforms.

Company Response: Walmart

Mask requirement announced on July 15, taking effect on July 20.

Due to various related incidents, Walmart’s face mask policy has attracted a significant amount of attention – and online mentions.

June 14: A customer hits a policeman with his car after telling the officer, “You can’t make me wear a f—ing mask.”

July 12: A Walmart shopper in Florida pulls a gun on another customer in a heated argument over masks.

July 15: In response to these incidents, Walmart announces that it will require masks for customers at all stores starting July 20. Hours after Walmart announces its new policy, the National Retail Federation asks retailers to set nationwide policies for face coverings.

Outcome: Upon implementing a mask requirement, Walmart garnered widespread praise from mainstream media outlets and trade organizations. While a handful of Twitter users called for a boycott of the chain, others defended the policy and poked fun at people who refuse to wear face coverings.

Looking at hashtags in relation to Walmart, pro-mask (such as #covidiots and #wearamask) hashtags were used more often than anti-mask ones, especially #boycottwalmart.

For analysis around more company mask statements, including McDonald’s, Disney, and Winn-Dixie, read the full Intelligence Brief on our Reports page.

For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please visit Zignal’s dedicated COVID-19 Response Page, where you’ll find best practices, data-driven analyses and shareable content you can leverage in your response to COVID-19.