Will the ebb and flow of mask guidelines outpace consumer patience?

As mask guidelines change, consumer experiences will be affected, but can retail leadership help? Let’s dive in…

CDC mask guidelines have now largely reverted to the more stringent standards we saw a year ago during the (previous) worst peaks of the pandemic. And as retailers across the United States play catch-up with these newly-updated guidelines, the question industry insiders will have to consider is: can or will consumers en masse keep up? While safety is undoubtedly the singular concern, message cohesiveness also plays a role in getting that message out and out of the way of daily operations, especially when dealing not only with the vast marketplace that B&M retailers make up geographically, but when dealing with the psychology of such a large and diverse base of shoppers.

“Do or do not, there is no try…” one masterful puppet once said. This may ultimately become the formula for retailers as they communicate their own standards based on the guidelines given by the CDC and other local governments. Perhaps a better interpretation of this is “Act or do not act, but do so quickly…” in that there’s strength and cohesiveness in numbers. That is to say, if the consumer (pardon the pun) faces the retail shopping experience with new mask mandates that are evenly distributed across the board – across all or at least most retailers, then they may feel less frustrated than those mask mandates that are implemented in one retailer but not the other – inevitably putting pressure on the consumer to “learn” what each individual retailer has set as their own standard.

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On the other hand, week-long or month-long delays in individual retailer mask mandates throughout the US may put added pressure on consumers who cross over retailer brands to get access to the merchandise they seek. Shop at one store, masks on. Shop at another, masks optional. Shop at a third… unknown. Some consumers may want to just get in and out without the “butter-side-up / butter-side-down” research required on the matter for each store. Of course, another consideration is that if one retailer responds to the change in guidelines weeks sooner than another, there may be competitive advantages and disadvantages to one over the other in either direction. Although tracking such uneven advantages could be near impossible, it will be interesting to see if this can or does become an emerging metric that influences inventory distribution and sales.

The takeaway is this… whether or not leadership comes from the top down (from government through retailers), quick and decisive leadership on the matter from the retailers themselves could take undue pressure off of the consumers and free them up for doing what we all want them to do… shop and enjoy their experience as much as possible in these trying times. If you’re not monitoring daily inventory across retailers, regions, DOORS and by SKUs… we need to talk… set up a quick walkthrough of our platform and review of your operations here.