NEW YORK – Walmart will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its namesake and Sam's Club stores, making it the largest retailer to introduce such a policy that has otherwise proven difficult to enforce without state and federal requirements.
The company said Wednesday that the policy will go into effect on Monday to allow time to inform customers. Currently, about 65% of its more than 5,000 stores and clubs are located in areas where there is already some form of government mandate on face coverings.
Hours after Walmart's announcement, supermarket chain Kroger, based in Cincinnati, and department store Kohl's, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, followed suit. Kohl's policy will go into effect on Monday, while Kroger's mask protocol will go into effect July 22.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, Kohl's and Kroger join a growing but still small list of retailers to require masks at all of its stores, filling the role of states and the federal government that have failed to issue such mandates on an issue that has been highly politicized by President Donald Trump and many of his ardent supporters. Given Walmart’s clout as the largest retailer in the U.S., its decision is expected to push many others to issue similar mandates.
Last week, Starbucks announced that customers who visit its company-owned café locations in the U.S. will be required to wear face coverings. The policies at Starbucks and Best Buy went into effect Wednesday.
Only a handful of major retailers, including teen clothing chain American Eagle Outfitters and Apple, has a mask mandate for customers for all of its stores. Costco Wholesale Club was one of the first major retailers to require face coverings for customers at all of its stores. The policy went into effect in early May.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, said in a statement that it hopes Walmart's move will be a “tipping point in this public health debate.”
Retailers had been hesitant to issue chain-wide mandates for fear of angering some customers. They also didn't want to have their workers play the role of enforcers of the protocols. It was already hard enough to get some customers to comply even in the states that had the mandates. However, the recent surge of new virus cases — particularly in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona — has left them with no choice, retail experts say.