What should retailers do about social distancing renegades?

Discussion
Photo: @beachbumledford via Twenty20
May 11, 2020
Tom Ryan

Last week, a security guard at a Family Dollar in Michigan was fatally shot after telling a customer to wear a face mask.

Other high-profile incidents involving rebellion against social distancing mandates:

  • On May 6, a women shot a McDonald’s employee in Oklahoma City after being told the dining room was closed;
  • On May 2, a man wiped his nose and face on a Dollar Tree worker’s shirt after being told in-store customers must wear a mask;
  • On May 2, a man wore a Ku Klux Klan hood while shopping at a Vons a day after health officials in San Diego ordered face coverings to be worn in public;
  • On May 2, an employee and customers at a Stop and Shop in Massachusetts tackled a man who coughed and spit on produce.

More common are the minor confrontations on selling floors between customers and associates or between customers over social distancing requirements.

“I think what you’re seeing in this situation is really what you’re seeing in a variety of situations across the country, which is this tension about opening and people’s concern about it,” said Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s CEO, in an interview on Good Morning America following the Oklahoma City incident.

In store aisles, it’s fairly common to see customers sidestepping workers restocking shelves or brushing by customers in violation of the six-feet apart rule. Incidents of shoppers openly or mistakenly disregarding one-way aisles have also been reported.

The more contentious issue is the requirement to wear masks in some states, cities and among a few chains, including Costco. The opposition comes from several sources. The New York Times reports, “The decision not to wear a mask has, for some, become a rebellion against what they regard as an incursion on their personal liberties. For many others, the choice is a casual one more about convenience than politics. The choice can also be a reflection of vanity, or of not understanding when or where to wear one.”

Store workers, who sometimes receive little training to resolve infractions, can overreact. Scott Nash, CEO of MOM’s Organic Market in the Mid-Atlantic region told the Associated Press he advises his staff to “use their common sense … Don’t be too lax and don’t be controlling or publicly shaming.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should stores manage the minor and major confrontations stemming from social distancing mandates? What advice would you give to store associates who are asked to deal with infractions?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This is really a matter of public health, not a matter of individual liberty, when one person's failure to wear a mask endangers the health of others."
"Stores need to CLEARLY post rules in-store and in digital. Employees need training on how much to engage, when, to let something go, and when to call security [if available] o"
"It is not right to ask a store employee who was hired to stock shelves or ring sales to suddenly become a store enforcer. You need people who have training..."

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44 Comments on "What should retailers do about social distancing renegades?"


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Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Start by posting severely clear rules and expectations at the front door. And have mall security on speed dial.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Jeff, I agree with you. My concern is I believe many of the people we see violating the safety rules are doing it on purpose to create more chaos.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

There probably will be that level of malicious mischief. Those who want to engage in that kind of conduct can spend all the mask-free time they want at the local jail. Or they can mop the floors in the local ICU.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

It starts with proper training and reminders each work day with each member of the team working that day. If an employee has issues, they need to get management help ASAP to avoid any of the situations that have come up in the past few weeks.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I would treat these people the same way I would shoplifters. The difference is that they may be stealing people’s lives rather than product. People seem to obey the rules at the beach — no shirt, no shoes, no service — so what’s so different about this? This appears to be a red/blue issue when in fact it is a serious health issue that discrediting science won’t solve as the short term result is death. People are freaking out because they have been cooped up for 60 days as evidenced by the scene at the local Mashpee, MA ice cream shop this weekend. Lets all just chill — summer is just around the corner.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I could not say this any better!

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

The issues of enforcing social distancing and safety precautions in the COVID-19 era are among the most difficult challenges facing store teams. Clearly confronting those who disregard or disobey the rules is risky, but allowing people to violate the rules is also risky – and potentially for far more people. Unfortunately, I don’t see any easy enforcement answers — store teams are damned if they do (enforce) and damned if they don’t.

Scott Norris
Guest

Store owners/managers who are lax on the rules are putting their staff in jeopardy – a customer who falls sick may have a hard time convincing a jury that the store was to blame, but an employee will have a much more convincing case. Long term, insurance companies are going to have to come down hard on the regions/operators who are putting health at risk by failing to use common sense.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

There are going to be the renegades who go to a store with the goal of disruption – this is unfortunate and I’m not qualified to give advice on how to best avoid this disruption.

The best defense is a good offense. For more minor infractions, the ones that stem from consumers not knowing what’s expected, stores are best served by communicating their expectations before consumers get to the store. Social media, websites, PR, signage in front of the store, a location to pick up a flyer with store policies. From the minimal opportunity I’ve had to witness interactions, many store conflicts happen as folks are entering, because they weren’t aware of the policy. Stores should start there.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

“Social distancing renegades” are criminals. Period. No one has the right to endanger the health and livelihood of other people. Unfortunately, the Store Operations Council’s next iteration of the Reopening Retail Safely document will have to address violence visited on frontline workers who are merely doing their job.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

The incident in the Michigan Government house is a solid example of violating other people’s health and lives.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Rules need to be clearly explained and posted so that everyone knows what is expected. The difference between requests and mandatory demands also needs to be clear as this can be a source of confusion.

Minor confrontations are reasonably easy to deal with and can be managed by shop-floor staff and management. Most people are reasonable and will listen and act on requests made of them.

Major confrontations should involve security or the police. And, frankly, they should end with customers being removed from stores and being given a ban. However the examples above emphasize the need for caution and, preferably, for stores to have some form of professional security team that can intervene.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust
Part of the problem is that some communities mandate the wearing of masks, others simply recommend it, and still others provide no guidance at all. And the issue has been politicized — like so much in our society — because of the lack of clear guidance from the Federal government. (Not to mention lack of clear example-setting from the top.) This is really a matter of public health, not a matter of individual liberty, when one person’s failure to wear a mask endangers the health of others. “We’re all in this together” went out the window, it seems, after about six weeks. When refusal to wear a mask upon entering a store (even if masks are provided) escalates from confrontation to bad behavior to shooting people, it’s hard to know how an individual retailer is supposed to deal with it. Unfortunately, security guards will need to be more visible at store entrances so that other associates aren’t confronting a problem they’re not trained to handle. And — even more sadly — local law enforcement will… Read more »
Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
This is one of many, many concerns about reopening. It is not right to ask a store employee who was hired to stock shelves or ring sales to suddenly become a store enforcer. You need people who have training, and who have the enforcement skills and also the judgment to know when and how to use those skills. I’ve seen retailers post signs that detail government orders, sort of as a way to say “It’s not me – I’m just following the rules and you need to as well.” I’ve seen more prominent security both in stores as well as in strip mall parking lots. I will also say, I think some of the tension comes from people who had it in their heads that reopening meant getting back to “normal” and are dealing with the unpleasant shock of realizing that this is not going to be the case. I think some sympathy can go a long way – “It’s weird. None of us are used to it. It’s okay that you’re not sure what… Read more »
Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

The major concern is over wearing masks. Just as store patrons are required to wear shirts and shoes, a mask requirement means they should be turned away at the door if they are unwilling to comply. Second, this should be handled at the door by qualified personnel. Most stores will not allow employees to apprehend shoplifters; neither should they be required to enforce rules that might put them in danger.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

Retailers must post the rules outside the business, reinforce the rules in any marketing and then have a person greeting customers at the door to double-check for compliance. It is helpful if local or state governments set the rules, but this will not always be the case.

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

It’s a double-edged sword with no good answer. You do not want your employees to be a police force but refusing social distancing is putting the population at whole at risk. I would recommend adding signage explaining what you require on the door and enforcing the policy from the management level.

Ryan Grogman
BrainTrust
The list of recent occurrences is highlighting the fact that there are built-up tensions regarding the handling of businesses reopening. Fortunately, retail stores already have processes in place for how to handle unruly customers, and the list of non-COVID related infractions for any given week in past years would be exponentially longer. Unfortunately, the current environment is highlighting that there is a growing divide about what measures are perceived appropriate for retail stores to mandate, and the spotlight will shine brightly on these types of incidents as they arise. The best advice retailers should follow: be gentle, be a good listener, but be firm. Patience is required as retailers cannot overreact too quickly to a perceived infraction and store managers should handle the situation in a gentle fashion, being careful not to stoke a fire or further provoke someone intentionally looking for an argument. But ultimately, we have to remember there are significant underlying health concerns which are driving these social distancing policies. Therefore, retailers must be firm in their resolve to remove customers who… Read more »
Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Posting rules clearly at the entrance in unambiguous terms would help tremendously.

The confusion stems from some states “encouraging” as opposed to “mandating.” Coupled with that, if the stores don’t post rules for their facility it is a recipe for trouble.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Post a sign: “no mask, no service, no exceptions. Thank you for keeping your neighbors safe.” If they can’t follow that, ask them to leave.

Michael Decker
BrainTrust

New challenges require new solutions. Every retail store needs to post the applicable state laws in plain sight at the entrance of every store. Additional security should be as obvious (cameras and an armed security guard) and manifest with trained personnel who know how to immediately DE-escalate infractions. If within the context of the law, it’s “no mask, no service.” Period. These measures (at minimum) should be a part of every state’s laws. “No Security detail, no opening for business.” This will be a significant additional expense for retailers to do business but, in my opinion, is necessary and will save lives. Perhaps the salaries of security individuals can be a specifically designated and encouraged part of the Federal PPP program. This would help retailers and create new jobs across the board.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It is about training and posting your rules. The one I am having trouble understanding is owners who allow some workers not to wear masks. You have to manage the optics. And compliance starts with store employees who are well trained on what to say and do. Know limits and train employees. No one wants an altercation.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I had meant to add this resource I wrote yesterday: Reopening Retail Stores – Tell Shoppers What’s Changed Before Arrival. Make a video. Share it. Do your due diligence to avoid bad behaviors proactively.

Al McClain
Staff

It’s just not reasonable to ask store associates to try to enforce these rules, when some customers are so confrontational, at risk to their health. The answer to me is to hire more security officers and make them more visible everywhere, but especially at entrances, to explain and enforce the new normal. And, have a good relationship with the local police department.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

For customers to feel safe and secure, there must be clearly stated rules to enter the store. All employees must be trained on how to respond to and deal with offenders. Bringing in the authorities or mall security is always an option and can take a confrontation away from the store and put it in the hands of an authority figure that is willing to reinforce the rules. For malls, it is important for the retailer and mall management to be in sync with how to handle problems.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

I believe these folks should be treated in the same manner as known shoplifters. Make certain that the expectations are clearly communicated. Perhaps even offer them a mask. If they don’t comply security should graciously escort them out and away from other shoppers. There is now enough evidence that masks make a significant difference and impact. Wearing a mask should be mandatory. Every business should make wearing a mask mandatory for ALL employees – period.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

It all comes down to retailers following the rules, regulations, and safety measures of the local communities. They are there for a reason, to stop the spread of the virus and keep those most vulnerable safe, as well as protect the front line associates. The rules and regulations should be published across the retailer’s website and physical stores. Honest, socially responsible consumers should follow them accordingly, without the retailers needing to enforce and confront the offenders.

What is remarkable is how politically polarizing the social distancing and mask-wearing regulations have become.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Retailers’ staffs are in harm’s way in a manner they have never been before. I agree with all those who agree training is a must but store employees must also be given the tools to back them when it comes to enforcing social distancing. Having the requirement for a customer to have a mask to enter the store posted gives the employees the “right” to ask the person to leave if they refuse. Training can prepare the employees with the manner in which to do so.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Keep it simple, folks. Have “can’t-miss-it” signage throughout the store that states “appropriate face covering” and “distancing of at least six feet away from other shoppers” are required. Those who break these rules with offensive masks, etc., should be asked to leave by store management and when they don’t the police should be called. These stores are private property and you have the right to require appropriate attire and behavior. You can’t shop naked, right?!

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Personal liberties versus personal health. I can’t understand how or why some of those deciding masks are not necessary can’t see the seriousness of the pandemic. What makes them think they are not in danger? Am I missing something here? Because I do not understand why people are not concerned for their health and the health and safety of their family.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

When the message from DC is that it’s “patriotic” to be disruptive and doing so is standing up for basic rights of freedom, then it’s going to be really tough for retailers to enforce these basic health and safety rules. This puts retailers in a no win mode. Perhaps the malls should do the policing as it is not cost effective, or PR effective, for any one retailer to try this themselves.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

We probably can’t ever eliminate the renegades. But the first step to controlling them starts outside the store. When I visited Target on Saturday and stood in a (socially distanced) line with others waiting to get in, Target had clearly established calm control of the situation.

When I go to a store where nothing happens outside the store then people are expected to “behave” inside, it’s a recipe for conflict.

Joe Skorupa
Guest

Confrontations between store employees and customers has become part of the daily job in stores today and retailers will have to do more than standard training and communication. They will have to assign a designated coronavirus point person for each shift not only to handle confrontations but to deal with unforeseen issues and questions by shoppers. This person will need special training, including legal and enforcement training. Defusing situations will be the main goal but emergency tactics for situations that spin out of control will also have to be included. Sad to say, but retail has become entangled in the divisive political environment and new steps will have to be developed to protect shoppers and employees.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This is our new reality….

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
I agree that these “renegades”—public health hazards—have to be handled the same way management would handle a customer who came in without pants on. The only difference is one is unpleasant to look at, while the other is endangering people’s lives. Whether customers agree with social distancing guidelines or not is irrelevant. Part of living in a civilized society is modifying one’s behavior to reflect regulations put in place by local officials. I don’t agree with many of the things that my tax dollars go towards, for instance, but I’m not setting up an overseas bank account to skirt my civic duty. The real issue here is that store security and legal personnel feel reluctant to enforce life-or-death-situation rules because of how accommodating our society has become towards specific demographics of infringers—namely those whose views are extreme examples of those being openly touted by the current regime. We can say that this isn’t a political issue until we’re blue in the face, but when the president and VP of our country aren’t wearing masks, Joe… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Social distancing “renegades”? You mean rude, dangerous idiots? Unfortunately the best an associate, unaccustomed to such behavior, can do is politely ask them to comply. I heard Whole Foods will pass out masks, which would alleviate some of the issue, but in that case it could be said right at the door: “no mask, no entry.” Kind of like the old, “no shirt or shoes, no service.” Individual store policy is within the rights of the retailer to enforce. Just ask Hobby Lobby.

I do agree with Dick in any case. This is not about liberty AT ALL. You can go ahead and get yourself sick if you’re so inclined (or drive 140 on the freeway), but please have the courtesy to keep others’ health and safety out of your dumb choices.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The examples in this article are violent. The cause is irrelevant–violence is never acceptable.

Stores need to CLEARLY post rules in-store and in digital. Employees need training on how much to engage, when, to let something go, and when to call security [if available] or the police.

No retailer can resolve human behavioral issues, If there are too many behavioral issues emanating from frustrated shoppers, they can explore other options like closing for a couple of days with the reason made public or resorting to curbside and delivery services only. To cower in the face of immature and/or threatening behavior is to signal that the few can control the many and allowing that will spell the end of such a retailer.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust
Yesterday at a Safeway store it was mayhem. It was crowded like half time at a sports event. Hardly a mask to be seen. Inside the store, people were crowded into checkout lanes and once checked out, had to navigate shoulder to shoulder by literally dozens of other shoppers who were also trying to get out of the store. There was no control at the doors. None. No wipes, no wiped down shopping carts. None. This is a local Safeway store where I know the long time store management and they do a great job normally. It was amazingly tone-deaf. People coming out of the store, no masks, in groups of young adults and older adults bringing out beer and party supplies. It was insane. Whereas the local Kroger and Trader Joe’s are orderly, we line up to go in the store one by one, every other checkout counter is closed. We stand in a box behind the Plexiglas as the check out clerk bags our groceries. No personal shopping bags are allowed. Bottom line… Read more »
Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think it has to be treated in the same way as shop lifting. You simply can’t expect regular store employees to enforce the rules other than a mention. Store security needs to be involved and manpower resource needed for crowd management as well as rule enforcement.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust
I guess I am in the minority on this. The state of Ohio does not mandate masks for customers, and I am not the police, and if they come in without one so be it. If it was mandated than yes I would make sure the folks who don’t have a mask not be allowed in or give them a disposable one. This situation is beyond insane, and we have folks shaking in their boots if someone gets near them. I feel sorry for these people, as inciting panic by the media has divided our country even more. The flu season runs annually, and this current version has been built up to be the end of times, which simply isn’t true. There are some who believe we should wait till they find a cure or vaccine before we open up our economy again. When will it ever be safe enough so nobody gets seriously ill, or worse — dies from any flu, now or in the future? The answer is never. We need to move… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust

It’s patently unfair to ask store clerks to enforce sanitary and social distancing rules on the fly in the retail environment. Just as we prohibit them from tackling shoplifters, we cannot ask them to direct shopper behaviors. That’s what uniformed security personnel are for.

But we can require masks on all employees. Period. And we can direct employees to refuse service to any customer who does not wear one. Put this phrase in your COVID-19 training manual: “I’m sorry, I’m not permitted to help you as long as you are not masked, because it endangers me and other shoppers.”

Masks are a crucial element of the social contract. They are far more effective at protecting others than ourselves. That’s why we must all honor and protect each other by complying with this new behavioral norm. Retailers have a role to play in communicating and reinforcing this.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

James, this is exactly right. We must first ensure our staff are provided masks and we require them to be worn. It becomes, for now, another piece of their “uniform,” which we are required to provide. However, we cannot require our staff to be the mask police. They can explain the requirement to customers in a friendly tone, and if the customer refuses to comply, they must simply walk away. I like the phrase you suggest they use.

Kathy Kimple
BrainTrust

The rules are the rules. Retailers will need to take care that they are enforced in a fair and uniform manner.

marty.whitmore
Guest

There needs to be a very hard line taken at reopening time that can be relaxed over time. If someone refuses to conform to the guidelines then they should be offered mask and gloves. If they refuse they need to be asked to leave by store management and only store management. If necessary the retailer should insist on their exit. By no means should retailers entrust or expect their associates to become involved in these incidents.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This is really a matter of public health, not a matter of individual liberty, when one person's failure to wear a mask endangers the health of others."
"Stores need to CLEARLY post rules in-store and in digital. Employees need training on how much to engage, when, to let something go, and when to call security [if available] o"
"It is not right to ask a store employee who was hired to stock shelves or ring sales to suddenly become a store enforcer. You need people who have training..."

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