Retail NI urges Executive for clarification on face masks

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts says that if face coverings are made compulsory in Northern Ireland's stores, that the police should have to enforce these rules



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14 July 2020

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With the wearing of face masks in shops in England being made mandatory from 24 July, Retail NI has urged the NI Executive to clarify if it plans to do so in Northern Ireland. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has already made the wearing of face coverings in stores there compulsory since last Friday (10 July).

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the safety of their staff and customers has always been Northern Ireland’s retailers’ “top priority” and that they “will always follow the science to ensure they play their role in avoiding a second wave”.

However, he added that if the Executive did introduce the compulsory wearing of face masks in shops, then retailers and their staff should not have to enforce nor police such rules.

“We have already had incidents of shop staff trying to police social distancing being abused by a small minority of customers,” Roberts said. “If it is introduced in Northern Ireland, like England, the police should enforce the regulations.”

He also highlighted the fact that Retail NI members have “spent huge sums of money installing perspex screens and adapting their stores to comply with social distancing regulations. They fully appreciate their role in combating Covid-19 and will continue to do so in the months ahead.”

Meanwhile, GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company in the UK, described the announcement as a “major blow” for  non-essential retailers.

According to Sofie Willmott, lead retail analyst at GlobalData: “Shopping for non-essential items is already less appealing than pre-Covid due to the queuing involved, the inability to try items on and the risk of catching the virus.

“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,” Willmott added.

“Retailers are keen to make shoppers feel comfortable and to make the experience feel as normal as possible to encourage visits and in turn purchases but face masks will be a reminder that times have changed and that shoppers cannot relax as much as they would have done before. This additional off-putting factor will further fuel the shift to the online channel with UK online spend set to rise 25.9% in 2020 while physical retail spend declines 11.8%.

“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 move leaves many retailers in a precarious situation in Willmott’s view. “As retailers, such John Lewis & Partners, Debenhams and Boots announce store closures, increasingly empty shopping locations will be less attractive and more consumers are likely to turn to online purchasing for convenience and choice,” she said.






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