Reviews Don’t Mask The Truth: A Look At COVID-19 And Reviews

Last week a business, Teter’s Faucet Parts Center in Dallas, reported on the Google My Business forum that they had received a totally unfair review accusing them of being communists in light of their efforts to enforce mask compliance during the pandemic. This negative attack certainly raised the question as to what could a business do in this situation.

covid mask reviews

These sorts of extreme reactions to enforcing basic Covid-19 safety practices in a business attract attention and raise the stress level for most businesses who already feel beleaguered.

But how common are these review attacks?  Were these sorts of violent anti-mask sentiment a real threat or an outlier? Were they common and how common were they compared to other mask complaints?

The Review Stats

We decided to look at ~38,000 reviews across 9 different business types with 3,641 locations written during the past 90 days to find out how common mask* complaints were and to explore the relationship of Coronavirus practices to reputation in general.

We examined reviews from salons recently opened in the south, home services, businesses that stayed open as critical like Walmart & HomeDepot, and a range of foodservice providers including pizza delivery, a fast-casual chain, and a refreshment “bar”. 

To answer my original question, we found hardly any of the agressive anti-mask reviews amongst the 37,754 reviews that we looked at. We found six to be exact. Although four of these six were muted in nature, this one, written about a Home Depot, stood out as being on the fringe of the anti-maskers: 

Google review on masks

What we did find though was that most reviews that mention masks were criticizing the store for their lack of hygiene and occasionally complimenting them for the same. In fact, Covid reviews that included the word mask accounted for 2%, 724 in total, of all reviews written during the period for these businesses.

Of the hygiene-related reviews, the significant majority, 564 reviews, were critical of the business for poor Covid hygiene practices or enforcement in one form or another. The 6 anti-masker reviews constituted about half of 1% of the mask reviews and a nearly infinitely small percentage of the overall reviews. 

These legitimate criticisms came in a number of shapes and forms and demonstrate the concerns (and compliments) that consumers have. They offer every business a path forward. 

We just need to listen. What folks are saying is pretty clear. Here are some representative reviews expressing common concerns.

Hypocrisy In Implementation Was Not Tolerated

Consumer review:
A business requires customers to wear masks or they will refuse service, which is understandable. But what’s the point if the employees don’t wear masks themselves??? And no, wearing a mask around your chin and exposing your mouth and nose is not actually wearing a mask!

It only makes sense that a business holds itself and it’s customers to the same standards.

Careful What You Advertise

Consumer review:
Clearly not providing safe service.  Sat 4/25 order was retrieved from back and handed to me by a girl with face completely uncovered , her face mask was down around her neck the whole time I was there.  Another guy was running around with nose exposed.  Actually went there because of the safe handling commercials..  silly me…we won’t be returning.

If you advertise your “best practices” you have even more to account for as you have set an expectation for the brand. 

Style Is Out Of Style When It Comes To Health

Consumer review:
The mandated masks REQUIRED by stylists are see through. This place will be closed by a case of covid in days. Mark my words- bye bye roots.Grossly irresponsible owners. My nail tech does more. Heck the people at my supermarket do more. Enter at your own risk! The see through masks with their LOGO are mandatory. Don’t wear them and you get fired! I cancelled my appointment.  I work in spa industry,  this was so far from acceptable.

Even though a business, in this case a salon, is in the “beauty business”, the need to put safety and health after above beauty is even more critical. Compromises of that standard simply for appearances’ sake are ill conceived. 

If You Are Going To Do It, Do It Right

Consumer review:
All the customers are wearing masks. The employees had masks but several were not wearing them at all. Many had the mask below their nose to breathe easier. There is clearly no supervision by management.

This was the most common complaint whether in food prep, retail, home services or beauty. Employees should wear masks at all times and wear them properly.

Take Responsibility 

Consumer review:
I’ve had issues with delivery drivers failing to provide the items that I purchased, though they were kind enough to pay for them out their own pocket, but upon speaking to management about it to make sure employees double check their orders, I was told that isn’t their issue. Now with this COVID issue every delivery driver I’ve had come to my door is not wearing gloves and masks, and the latest who came to my door on 04/29/20 was clearly ill and coughing, no face mask and no gloves. I called management to report this and was rudely told that its not their problem and that me ordering delivery is at my own risk.”

There is no hiding in this pandemic and passing the buck to a delivery person, whether that reflects the legal relationship or not, is perceived as company management shirking its duties. And it is.

For Some It’s The Only Important Thing

Consumer review:
This summer I am rating businesses employees warring masks that’s all. With COVID 19 no one is immune. This place gets 1 star got a few employees not warring masks.

Reviews As A Public Service

Many folks see writing reviews as a public service to communicate to their community and to the business about the ups and downs of the shop down the street.  In fact, our research shows that as many as 18% of consumers write reviews for that reason.

To inform, help the business, the community and other consumers constitute 18% of the total

During the pandemic writing reviews about in-store Covid practices to alert other consumers to the danger is their way of helping.

It’s not just the need for staff to wear masks

Consumer review:
“While I really appreciate that all the employees are wearing masks, there is still a problem with a number of customers not wearing masks.  I had a bad experience shopping there yesterday with some customers getting to close to me not wearing masks and it wasn’t an accident either. These people were intentionally getting close and seemed to get a kick out of it…. I am a local general contractor and go to this particular store at least a couple times a week. I don’t feel safe shopping at Home Depot now and refuse to return until all customers are required to wear masks.  If Home Depot does not follow through with protecting their customers AND employees I will refuse to shop there forever.”

Consumers expect to transact in a safe environment. That is more complicated than ever these days, but this consumer, rightfully so, expects the business to hold everyone in their store to a reasonable standard of safety. Obviously the company is risking both short and long term losses if they fail. 

Doing It Right

Consumer review:
“Very sanitary, tables are spaced out to metro you away from other customers while drinking in, every employee had gloves and masks on and as soon as a customer got up to leave an employee was at their table right away sanitizing the seats and table. Very pleased and I felt safe to dine in there. Will definitely be back.”

Consumers were willing and desirous of highlighting the good. 39% of reviews that mentioned masks did so to compliment the business for a job well done. 

What’s A Business To Do?

It is both unfair and unfortunate that businesses exist in a world where they are the arbiters of appropriate social standards. Even in states where masks are required when in doors for shopping, many governmental bodies have left enforcement to the uneven hands of business.

Regardless of your local enforcement and customer behaviors, the moral and ethical business issues around customer and employee safety are clear. No business should  want to be the source of a community outbreak or employee illness or worse death.  The legal landscape around doing business safely in this ever changing world of covid risks is still ill-defined but it is unlikely to look favorably on businesses that knowingly put the community at risk, 

But put all of the moral, ethical and legal considerations aside for a moment as you consider your store policies AND how you implement and enforce them. 

Just Consider One Thing: The Voice Of The Customer 

Despite reports in the press of widespread mask opposition the overwhelming majority of consumers that are concerned with masks indicate that Covid hygiene is their highest concern. Those that have left reviews indicate that businesses have not been rigorous enough in their implementation and enforcement of Covid hygiene practices. Reviews have always been hard for your business and now, harder than ever.

And we are not talking just a majority compared to anti-maskers in the sense that it is 60,70, 80 or even 90% of those concerned speak up. We are talking about 99.2% that comment about safety vs those that are opposed to mask-wearing.  

Clearly anti-maskers have a presence in our media and to a much lesser extent in our society but they are very, very small component. The rabid anti-maskers are not just outliers but outliers of the outliers.

However, anti-maskers may be portrayed in the media as present in our society they don’t seem to do any shopping and are certainly not writing reviews. Their actual presence appears to be so small that any business would be unwise to cater to it in their planning. 

It appears from our research that a business has no choice but to implement the most conservative and health driven recommendations in requiring masks and safety. But equally important is that they follow them rigorously and insist that customers do as well. 


*We used the word “mask”  as a proxy for all reviews about Covid-19 practices. While this has proven to be largely accurate it tends to undercount the total somewhat.

About The Author

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp and helps oversee our research, industry insight and agency offering. Mike has long been regarded as the foremost expert on local search and Google Maps, earning the nickname “Professor Maps”. Mike also co-founded Local University, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week LocalU podcast about Local marketing. 

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