Face masks GettyImages-1216050976

Retailers have been advised to be more proactive in encouraging staff and customers to wear face coverings.

This follows research by mystery shopping organisation Storecheckers, which found a decline in the wearing of masks as staff and customers.

In a survey completed on 20 September, before face coverings became mandatory for staff, Storecheckers sent its mystery shoppers to revisit stores in 10 retail centres across England and Wales that it had reviewed earlier in the summer.

On both occasions they monitored the wearing of masks by both customers and staff and looked at how this affected their view of care & security in a COVID environment.

The latest results showed an increasing unwillingness of staff to wear masks, as 40% of assistants had no face covering v 34% reported in the summer. Customers without masks also rose 5% from 16% to 21%.

Of the centres visited, Cardiff and Northampton both had the lowest proportion of customers who did not wear masks at 1%, with Cardiff’s falling from a previous 80% after the wearing of masks was made mandatory in shops by the Welsh Government.

Brixton, included for the first time, had the highest ‘no mask’ shoppers rating, at 40%. Bradford and Liverpool each saw rises of over 20% in customers not wearing masks, to 30% and 32% respectively.

These two cities are also COVID hotspots and there has been an accompanying rise in the proportion of these centres’ staff without masks, from 57% to 76% for Bradford and from 24% to 37% for Liverpool, the latter of which is expected to be placed under further lockdowns.

Manchester also saw a steep rise in the COVID cases between the two fieldwork dates. However, for this centre, mask wearing by shoppers only fell by 2% whilst 7% fewer staff (25% v 32%) had no face coverings.

Although Cardiff also saw shop floor staff without face coverings fall from 32% to 4%, eight of the other centres saw increases in staff not wearing masks, with Bradford again having the weakest staff adherence, at 73% v 57% unmasked.

Storecheckers’ managing director Jeff Caplan said: “The government has said that police will now be enforcing the wearing of masks, but do they realistically have the resources to do this? Stores need to be taking a far more proactive role in ensuring their customers have their faces covered.

“Shoppers appeared to have become more accepting of the fact that not all customers will be wearing masks. 64% felt ‘Very safe’ or ‘Safe’ in the shop’s COVID environment, whether all staff had masks on or not. In the summer, there was a 13% safety perception deficit in stores where not all staff had face coverings.”

He added: ‘’There appears to be a growing reluctance to wear masks in shops, accompanied by a rising perception that this is acceptable. Mask wearing has been identified as a key deterrent in preventing the spread of COVID and, as we move into a winter surge of cases, it’s even more important for everyone to follow the government’s directive to always cover their face when out shopping.”

Confused about face covering guidance? Our UK guide can help.