Walmart has decided to require that customers wear a mask in its stores starting on July 20, regardless of whether or not the government is requiring it in that area. The same goes for Starbucks, which actually sent out an email to customers letting them know the new policy, which went into effect on Wednesday.

 inline image

The two companies were joined by other retailers and grocery chains, such as Kohl's and Kroger, which made similar announcements. I suspect they won't be the only companies to take this approach.

In some ways, this is really brilliant. There are few things right now more controversial than whether to wear a mask--which is strange because it's absolutely not something that should be controversial at all. Setting the politics of it aside, if you're running a small business, this isn't that complicated.

Here's why: I agree that it gets a little questionable when the government requires you to wear a mask in public or risk some kind of penalty or fine. And, as a private business, it's a little complicated to be in the position of enforcing controversial state mandates. 

Except that private businesses are free to make masks mandatory while you're on their property or in their stores. And private businesses have a responsibility to their customers, their team, and their community. It's on you as a leader to make the decisions that best serve each of those groups.

Along with that responsibility comes a level of accountability for what happens in your place of business. Which explains why large corporations like Walmart and Starbucks are clarifying that whether or not the state or federal government requires it, masks are required at their stores.

By the way, the airlines are already doing the same thing. So is Apple--which is requiring masks to shop in its reopened stores.

Of course, some people won't be happy. That's OK, because in this case, the goal isn't to keep customers happy, it's to keep them safe. And even if that customer isn't concerned for his or her own safety, the business owner is accountable for all customers--not to mention their team. 

It's no different than refusing to serve someone who has had too many drinks at your bar, or enforcing "No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service." You stop serving them because they could pose a safety risk to themselves and others. Also, the last thing your business needs is to be the source of an outbreak of Covid-19.

There's also something to be said for the simplicity of it all. There's no need to try and figure out whether or not a particular policy applies in your area, since it's the same everywhere. There's no question about whether you have to wear a mask to shop at Walmart, you just wear one or find somewhere else to shop.

You can do yourself and your customers a favor by having a clear and simple policy, especially if you have multiple locations in areas with different guidelines. You may make some customers unhappy, but at least you won't make them confused, or even worse, sick.