I am sick of talking about sickness. I am worn out over the CDC, WHO, and national and local conflict on public health policy. In short, I’m sick and tired of COVID-19, and I know that goes double for IGA retailers and their store teams.
And now, just as we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the CDC’s recent announcement that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors has created even more confusion about how we should run our stores and keep our associates, shoppers, and communities safe.
Should our employees keep wearing masks? Should we mandate it or make it optional? Should we ask our shoppers to continue wearing masks? And if so, for how long? And how could we possibly monitor who is fully vaccinated?
I spoke to some of our retailers to hear what they're doing about masking up since the CDC announcement, and as expected, local direction is all over the board. As a result, many retailers are keeping their policies in place even if local mandates are lifted, or at least until we know more about the federal emergency temporary standard expected to be handed down soon from OSHA. Others with lifted mandates have followed the path of grocery brands like Walmart and Costco and done away with mask restrictions entirely.
Like most things related to COVID, the answer isn't completely clear, and will be different based on where you live and the needs of your team and the people you serve.
Which leads us to what we know about shoppers as a whole:
- Americans are, in general, confused about what they are supposed to do. While the confident extremes get press and social media attention, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that masks and vaccines do provide safety. They just wish authorities would make up their minds and publish a clear policy.
- Grocery shoppers have always equated food safety with store cleanliness. Want to sell more fresh meat and produce? Make sure your floors are spotless and your restrooms gleam. And now because of the virus, Americans believe that restaurants and grocery stores who are committed to virus safety also have fresher, healthier, and safer food.
You need to make the decision that is right for your store, but if you, like many of the IGA retailers we've heard from, are looking to validate keeping more discipline in your store around COVID protocol, there is an option you may not have considered: shift the in-store message away from COVID and toward your store's commitment to cleanliness.
Shift the in-store message away from COVID and toward cleanliness." — IGA CEO John Ross
Imagine a sign that says, “At IGA, we will continue to wear masks when necessary, wash our hands frequently, and keep surfaces clean, to make sure your shopping experience and the food we provide is the cleanest and safest option for your family.”
This approach allows you to err on the side of caution, at least for the time being, so you can continue to feel secure in your efforts to protect your family, your store team, and your community. Moreover, it enables you to think long term. Just like hair nets and plastic gloves, masks could easily become a part of food service and OSHA best practices in the future. How can you use that to your advantage now, by making your commitment to cleanliness, safety, and protection a competitive advantage relative to the national chains?
Related to shoppers, at minimum, we need to follow the local mask requirements. If your local mandate no longer requires masks, but you're not yet comfortable with seeing a store full of maskless customers, consider asking customers to be cautious: “To ensure the safety of our more vulnerable staff and shoppers, please consider wearing a mask.” But I would pull my own associates back from having to be mask and/or vaccine enforcers unless state and local rules require it, like the mandate that was just introduced in Oregon.
There is no easy decision here and certainly no way to please everyone, but there could be a real opportunity: Repositioning your store as a cleaner, more thoughtful, safer option for your shoppers is a way to grow share.
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