The role brands can play in keeping us safe and protecting the recovery
Brands find themselves in a unique place in the coronavirus: able to potentially set public health policy for the good of public, and, economic health. Health experts agree that wearing masks or face coverings contribute dramatically to the slowing of the coronavirus. And more and more economic experts argue that the virus needs to be contained before the economy can really begin to mount a sustained recovery. As more of America’s top retailers – from Walmart to Starbucks – set national mask policies, brand leaders are starting to create and normalize a de facto national mask mandate.
That could, in effect, supersede the hodge-podge of local, state and federal guidelines that are arguably prolonging this crisis. And it’s in line with consumer opinion, which strongly supports mask-wearing in the retail environment.
The majority of Americans (87%) say people should wear a face mask or face covering in a grocery or retail store, according to the latest Axios/Ipsos poll. Of that group, 79% of respondents say people should do so at all times in these settings. More people say they’re wearing masks now (85%) than at any other point since Ipsos started tracking usage in April.
Those results mirror the Ipsos Consumer Health and Safety Index study. While staff wearing masks and gloves was among the top drivers for consumers’ likelihood to return to stores in the May wave of the study, “requiring customers to wear masks” has emerged as one of the top drivers of likelihood to return in the July wave. This signals a shift in consumer attitudes towards embracing wearing masks in public places, says Shohini Banerjee, a senior vice president, at Ipsos.
“When you have crowds of people together and you have the lack of wearing a mask that increases the risk of there being transmissibility. I have no doubt about that,” White House health advisor Anthony Fauci told CNBC. Goldman Sachs has estimated that mask-wearing could stave off a 5% hit to GDP.
But there is a vocal minority who see masks an infringement on their liberties or a political symbol. Eric, a 35-year-old warehouse forklift operator from Georgia is a participant in Ipsos’ ongoing America In Flux ethnographic research on consumer behavior during COVID-19. “If I have to wear a mask on a plane, it’s not a vacation,” Eric says in the latest study video.
“Eric associates face masks with a lack of freedom,” says Liza Walworth, vice president and founder of the Ipsos U.S. Ethnography Center of Excellence. “For him, the risk of acquiring the virus is far less important than surrendering his freedoms.”
This vocal minority contributes to the partisan divide over safety policies. But even Republicans, who have been the least likely to wear masks, saw the biggest jump in doing so, according to the Axios/Ipsos poll. Now, 45% say they’re wearing a mask all the time, compared to 35% in late June.
More and more, people are responding to the crisis like Alphonso, a 41-year-old healthcare provider network manager in Arizona. He told Ipsos researchers, “Hospitals are almost at capacity, they’re going to have to decide who gets care and who doesn’t, and all of this could be prevented or have a better handle on it if our leaders were mandating masks and places to be closed, etc. We opened up too early, got too confident that it would go away, and it’s not.”
Across businesses, Americans’ use of masks vary widely by type of establishment since reopening after lockdowns. Grocery stores are the most-frequented place people have gone since reopening with 81% of people reporting visits, according to participants in the Ipsos Fresh Lab community. More than twice as many people have gone grocery shopping as the next category of non-grocery retail stores outside of mall at 37%. Restaurants and doctor’s offices are next at 35% and the numbers drop from there.
Most concerning is that restaurants, bars and fitness centers are the most high-risk places but also where mask use has gaps. Eating, drinking and exercising all make mask wearing difficult and less likely. But 74% of the Fresh Lab respondents report that they don’t go anywhere without wearing a mask. Fewer than 10% of non-compliant individuals are driving the vast majority of public interactions without a mask. Perhaps this is happening because most people are complying with mask requirements set by retailers, regardless of local regulations.
Indeed, this is where businesses have the most influence in normalizing masks, partially as a worker’s rights issue. One recent Ipsos poll found that just 55% of Americans would be comfortable returning to their workplace, and 83% of employees think their company should be responsible for providing personal protection equipment or implementing distancing protocols in the workplace. Another Ipsos survey finds 35% of full-time employees say their company should implement a policy which makes masks mandatory in the workplace. And, 48% think employers should provide them.
In other words, since businesses can set their own safety policies, by making masks and face coverings as part of their “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules, brands can save not only themselves but perhaps the rest of the nation in the process.