May 3, 2020

Will Customers Return to Businesses That Reopen Prematurely?

woman shopping

States can allow non-essential businesses to reopen before it is safe to do so. Some have already started this process, and more will likely follow. Employers of non-essential businesses will soon be able to force their employees to return to work before it is safe to do so. But what about their customers? Will they return? Some certainly will. The conservatives who believe that the coronavirus is a hoax is that they will be protected from it by some sort of prayer shield will probably be quick to return. As for the rest of us, it is hard to say.

I think our power as consumers to determine how, when, where, and even if we spend our hard-earned money is one we do not flex nearly often enough. My employer almost certainly will make me return to work before it is safe to do so. I'll have to return then to keep my job. But nobody can make me resume visiting local non-essential businesses before I am ready to do so. If I don't feel safe visiting a particular place of business, I am not going to do so. Thus, it is in the interest of local businesses to do everything they can to improve the safety of their customers.

Of course, there is only so much any business can do. If enough of us decide that venturing into any non-essential business is not worth the risk of contracting the coronavirus, we may opt to stay away. This describes where I am currently. If I don't absolutely have to go out, I am not doing so. Mississippi has already lifted its short-lived shelter-in-place order, but I am not changing my behavior at all. I am operating as if the order was still in place, and I have no plans to stop doing so until I have to. Why? First, the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Mississippi is continuing to climb. Second, I don't have much confidence in many local businesses to take the necessary precautions to protect public safety, not with stories like this in the news.

But aren't there decent local businesses that are going to be hurt by this approach? I'm sure there are. The thing is, I'm not interested in placing myself at risk to visit them when I don't have to. If we do reach the point where the situation changes, I expect I will venture out but will be very selective about where I go. That will be the time to support those businesses that have implemented the recommended precautions and avoid those that have not.

The last thing I'd like to mention is that this pandemic might provide us with yet another opportunity to give some thought to whether our consumer culture is the best option. If people not being able to buy crap they don't need when it is not safe to do so can cause our economy to unravel as quickly as it is now unraveling, it seems like it might be in our collective best interest to at least consider other options.