From 24 July shoppers not wearing a face covering in shops across England will risk a £100 fine.
The British Retail Consortium has stressed retailers must not be required to enforce the legislation.
Chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “With hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail staff every day, we welcome the announcement that enforcement will be left to the authorities, rather than potentially putting hardworking retail colleagues in harm’s way.”
A recent BRC Retail Crime Survey reported that there were 424 incidents of violence or abuse towards retail staff every day in the year to 31 March 2019 and retailers are concerned that the need to police face coverings could lead to further attacks.
One retail expert said it was inevitable that retailers will have to take responsibility: “The police can’t be everywhere, so retail store staff [will] have to ‘police’ people coming in. I think this will lead to security on the doors [of shops] and inside to bar people from entering. We can’t ask often young and inexperienced retail staff to challenge people in stores.”
One independent told Drapers: “It would have been easier if we had started with this measure as we have got used to our current way of working and the measures in place. However, we will adapt and work with the new measures: it is far more preferable than another outbreak. We won’t be expecting our team to police this – we will leave this up to individuals and simply advise them of our policy.”
However, a senior director at one footwear multiple said the additional safety measures will help boost footfall: “Personally, I see it as a positive. Hopefully, it will convince those with concerns that shopping is safer and encourage them into stores.
“As this is legislative, stores should have clear messaging that no face mask equals no entry. Staff will have the right to eject those not wearing masks, which I don’t see as policing but rather as managing the situation.”
Sophie Willmott, lead retail analyst at GlobalData, said the measure was another blow for non-essential retail: “Many consumers will see the face mask requirement as another reason not to visit non-essential shops, as it is a reminder that shopping trips are not what we are used to and are more hassle than before. Shopping for non-essential items is already less appealing than pre-Covid because of the queuing involved, the inability to try items on and the risk of catching the virus.
“There will be some consumers who will feel more at ease shopping once all those around them are wearing a face mask, which may encourage some who were previously reluctant to go out to the shops. But ultimately footfall recovery is going to be slow and is unlikely to return to the levels we saw pre-Covid until next year, if it even returns to this level at all.”
The managing director of one high street retailer agreed, and said the government updates only cause “confusion”.
He told Drapers: “This would have been fine if it had happened from the start when we reopened stores. But there is so much conflicting advice from the government.”
“This can of course further affect footfall and consumer confidence, as some customers might stay away now until the 24 July,” he added.