Half of all shoppers have either left a business or would leave a business where physical distancing and mask-wearing rules were not followed, according to a survey conducted by a chamber of commerce in midcoast Maine.
The 20-question online survey administered by the Brunswick-based Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber from June 4-12 drew 2,939 responses from consumers across the state, said Cory King, the group’s executive director.
A key finding, he said, is that a quarter of the respondents said they have left a business where they had intended to make a purchase because they felt unsafe due to the public health practices of those around them. Another quarter said they would leave a business if they felt unsafe because others were not practicing social distancing or mask-wearing, King said.
That means that half of all potential customers will base shopping decisions at least in part on how safe they feel, King said, and the survey also found that half would not return to a business where they felt their health was not being protected.
About a quarter of the respondents said they aren’t bothered if public health measures aren’t followed and 21.4 percent said they would go elsewhere if forced to wear a mask, the survey found.
But the survey also indicated that consumers who want public health rules followed will vote with their feet, King said. Two-thirds said they would travel 10 miles or more to a community where businesses enforced safe public health measures and more than half said they would travel 25 miles or more to do business in such a community.
King said the survey results should make an impact on business owners who encounter pushback on the rules from some customers.
“Even if it’s the customers who are not following the rules, that’s a reflection on you (the business owner),” King said.
The survey contained 15 questions on social distancing and an open-ended question inviting feedback, as well as four categorization questions that asked people their age, county of residence, whether they knew someone with COVID-19 and whether they knew someone who was at high risk.
King said the chamber sponsored the survey to help business owners gauge how the public views rules such as social distancing and mask-wearing. He said opponents of the measures may be complaining the loudest, but the survey results suggest most people believe the rules make sense and should be followed.
He said the survey also found that a third of customers who feel public health measures are not being followed will either write a negative social media post or tell a friend or family member about their experience.
“Social distancing is good business, but we didn’t know how impactful until this survey,” King said. “When 25 percent of respondents are saying they have left a business (where) they were intending to purchase something without purchasing it, that should perk up the ears of any business owner. When an additional 25 percent say they would do that if they feel unsafe, now you’ve got half of your potential customers saying they might walk out.”
King also said the survey also found that support for public health rules was strongest among those 60 years old or older.
“In the oldest state in the country, that is a ton of consumers,” he said.
The Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber represents businesses in Bath, Brunswick, Harpswell, Topsham and surrounding communities.