Small Local Businesses Face Mask Dilemma as Mandates Are Eased

local businesses face mask dilemma

When your state lifts the masking mandate, how should you conduct business?

According to a survey by Near Media, the majority of consumers support masking. The consumers also prefer businesses which strictly enforce it.

Consumers could respond using one of four choices: More likely to do business with them; Neutral, will not affect my spending; Less likely to do business with them; or I will never shop there again.

“Women and older consumers are most supportive,” said Mike Blumenthal, co-founder of Near Media and founder emeritus at GatherUp. “The majority of consumers clearly support strict masking enforcement and prefer businesses that do this.”

Blumenthal said strict masking enforcement is the “only logical path for a business.”

Local Small Business Should Enforce Face Masks for Customers, Survey Finds

“Obviously establishing Covid masking policy is like everything for business,” Blumenthal said. “It is critical that they know their base and are sure to put in place policies and practices that speak that that base.”

Blumenthal pointed out that according to survey respondents, women were more likely to support rigorous masking policy than men. Older (65+) populations supported masking more than younger ones. The 25-34 aged cohort was the least supportive of masking.

An important note: Although the youngest age groups were least supportive of masking, within those groups there was still a greater than 53% support for businesses which enforce masking policy.

Masking and a Broad Customer Base

If a business’s customer base is not specific – for example, not 80-90% of a certain age/gender category – should a business provide certain hours or certain age groups?

For example, the large groceries and grocery/box stores did “senior hours” in the mornings during the pandemic. Could this be an option for small businesses?

“Every business needs to understand that support for enforcement of masking was expressed by the vast majority of respondents regardless of age or area of the country,” Blumenthal said. “So that is a minimum standard that each business needs to put in place.”

“Each business knows their own customers the best and whether they offer curbside pickup, video Look and See, e-commence or special hours – they should tailor their offering to their customer set,” he added. “However, whatever they choose to do amongst those choices, recognize that you must do it well or you will be held accountable for bad service.”

Blumenthal said that small businesses who are thinking of implementing new customer-focused services should focus on services that will provide long term benefits, both to the business and the customers. He said there are two questions a business owner should consider:

  1. Will adding some e-commerce and curbside pickup help you improve your experience overall?
  2. Will implementing a better SMS based customer focused communication strategy not only make your customers feel safer but allow your business to process new leads better?”

Summarizing and Applying the Masking Survey Results

How can the information from the survey be turned into a tool for small busineses?

Blumenthal mentioned the “meaningful anti-mask minority” which can create a dilemma for local small businesses.

“The attitudes of this group remain largely unchanged since last year,” he said. “National reporting tends to focus on anti-masking attitudes, creating the impression that they’re more widespread than they actually are.”

The business needs to be ready for blow back and be prepared to deal with it, he advised.

What About Regional Differences and Masking?

Not surprisingly, consumers in the more urban Northeast most strongly supported masking. Those respondents were most likely to choose “least likely to do business with them” or “will not shop there at all” as choices regarding businesses which didn’t require masking.

At the other end of the scale was the more rural Midwest, which had the highest negative attitudes. Yet nearly 54% in the Midwest still favored a stricter business masking policy.

Masking as the Small Business World Recovers

Now’s not the time to lower your guard, Blumenthal said. He compared the up and down of the pandemic case numbers to mountain climbing.

“There is a common wisdom in the mountain climbing world proven out be real world experience that most accidents occur on the way down the mountain not on the more challenging climb up,” Blumenthal said. “Like the mountain climber now is not the time for the small business to let down their guard and to ease up on strict policy enforcement.”

Clear Communication about Masking is Important

Blumenthal said that for small businesses, the most important element of the issue is to clearly communicate these strong masking policies clearly and enforce them consistently.

“It may at times put the business at odds with the vocal minority but the business, particularly in states that have removed the masking mandate,” Blumenthal said. “Businesses should be able to make a moral, ethical and business case to both their customers and employees to enforce a consistent masking policy.”

How the Masking Survey Was Conducted

Two surveys were conducted in mid-March through Google. One survey had 500 respondents. The second survey had 2,500 respondents.

Each study surveyed US adults (18 and older) from all over the country. The respondents were statistically balanced to reflect the age and gender distributions in the US.

Image: Depositphotos

Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.