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Saks, Gap and Retail Plan for the New Normal: Week Ahead

Can people be trusted to understand the new rule on masks?

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask policy, noting that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by law, including local business and workplace guidance.

The new guidance quickly raised concerns that people would misunderstand the new protocol and presume that the mask mandate has now been abolished.

The risk now rises for unvaccinated people without masks in crowded indoor spaces. There’s risk too for people who haven’t yet gotten their second jab of a two-dose vaccine. And there’s no way to know who’s been fully vaccinated or not since the guidance relies on the honor system, which presumes people fully understand what’s required of them in terms of getting vaccinated.


Retailers have been quick to adjust their policies to reflect the updated CDC guidelines, while still ensuring that their stores are safe places to work and shop.

Joe Giddens/PA Wire
The mask mandate has generally been lifted in most instances for those who have been fully vaccinated. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP Images

On Friday, Gap Inc. became the latest retailer to update its mask policy across its four brands—Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta. The new policy recommends that customers who are not fully vaccinated wear masks in its stores, except in jurisdictions where masks are required by law. All company employees are still required to wear masks in its stores, company headquarters and customer experience centers, formerly referred to as distribution centers. Gap also said other aspects of the company’s in-store health and safety practices will remain intact. It is not mandating that its employees get vaccinated.

Other retailers have also disclosed updated mask policies. A week ago, Costco modified its policy to reflect state or local requirements. In general, where state and local jurisdictions do not have a mask policy, customers and associates who are fully vaccinated can enter a Costco without a face mask or face shield. “We will not require proof of vaccination, except where required by law, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy,” the company said, adding that face coverings will still be required in some close contact situations like pharmacy station.

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Walmart, also a week ago, said that vaccinated customers and associates no longer need to wear a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings, beginning on May 18, noting that the updated policy applies to all facilities, including stores, warehouse clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers and offices. The discounter also emphasized that “fully vaccinated” means two weeks after receiving the second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single Johnson & Johnson dose. This past Monday, Target issued a similar update to its mask policy. And on Tuesday, Dollar General said the no mask requirement for fully-vaccinated employees and customers also extends to vendors. Similar changes were effected at grocery chains such as Kroger and Whole Foods.


In late March, Gartner released survey results from 227 Human Resources professionals on returning to business settings. Nearly half (48 percent) of large global organizations said they will not track the vaccination status of their employees, while only 8 percent said they will require employees to show proof of vaccination. Nearly half at 45 percent expect their workplace to reopen in Q3 while 24 percent expect their offices to reopen in Q4.

“Given the uncertainty that will exist around vaccination status, most organizations that reopen will do so with social distancing and mask wearing in place,” Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice, said. “Regardless of reopening plans, only one percent of the HR leaders we surveyed expect all of their employees to work full-time in the office.”

Roughly one-third of respondents said they plan to have employees self-report vaccination status, and they likely won’t require proof. And, it appears that the majority of workplaces are planning for a hybrid workforce. About half said there are plans to let employees work remotely on certain days, while fifty-nine percent said they plan to let employees work remote occasionally, with their manager’s approval.

Earlier this month, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said he’s been back in the office in Manhattan since last June, and is glad to be back to meeting in person instead of through Zoom calls. Nike has said it will embrace flexible working, with employees in the office some days and at home others.

As many fashion firms are still navigating how to reopen and when, The New York Times on Wednesday said Saks will reopen its corporate offices in September as its primary workplace, according to CEO Marc Metrick. Employees will have built-in flexibility between remote and office but Metrick emphasized the culture building that only happens in the workplace. While NYT reported that Saks will require employees to be fully vaccinated upon their return, the company will have with fewer offices and more spaces that can be used as Zoom rooms or spots that can easily function as small group meeting rooms or pods.

Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) in March said it would split the e-commerce business of Saks Fifth Avenue (SFA) from the retail store business, with the new standalone firm operating as Saks. Metrick, formerly CEO of SFA, now heads up the standalone, while working with the brick-and-mortar team to provide a “seamless customer experience.” At the time, HBC said Saks ultimately would feature a hybrid retail and marketplace platform. On Friday, WWD reported that the business under Metrick’s oversight will soon begin testing a marketplace concept, citing Metrick’s letter to vendors. The idea is to show new products vendors typically drop ship, although some platforms incorporate a wholesale component.