Retailers have responded with relief following a ‘pleasantly surprising’ first morning of trading with the new face covering law in effect England.

Despite reports that customers had struggling to get to grips with the requirement, even retailers that feared it could lead to customer dissatisfaction or conflicts reported a smooth start to the measure.

Jacqui Dales, of London Road Bakery in Boston, Lincolnshire said “We were dreading today but have been really pleasantly surprised. Probably over 80% of customers have come in with masks on and the others have either bought a mask from us or they’ve pulled a t-shirt up over their face and a couple I have served on the street. We have maintained 100% compliance in store with good humour and cajoling. Much better than expected.”

Nimesh Patel, owner of Best-One Eldon Street in Preston surveyed the 62 customers that entered his store in the first three hours of trading on 24 July. More than one in three failed to wear a mask.

Asked about the reasons given for noncompliance, he commented: “Most are saying they ‘forgot’ others were more ‘I’m not wearing one’ and ‘there’s no point, it’s too late.’ Throughout the morning I’ve seen mainly youngsters not wearing one and mostly those that are in workwear.”

“It’s been 50/50. We have masks for sale in a prominent position offering those who are not wearing them. But not refusing entry,” said Sanjiv Kumar of Olive stores in Halesowen, West Midlands.

Mahesh Odedra of Lake Avenue Stores in Bury St Edmonds told betterRetailing: “I was fearing the worst but so far so good, let’s see what the evening brings.”

Many stores reported taking a ‘softly, softly’ approach in the initial days of the law change, which requires shoppers, but not shop staff to wear face coverings. Ministers have confirmed that retailers are under no obligation to enforce the law in their stores.

Anita Nye of Premier Eldred Drive in Orpington Kent said: “It’s been good. We aren’t enforcing it. I reckon we have had a dozen not coming in without a covering on and we had an OAP tell one of them off for not wearing one!”

The NFRN marked the start of the new law by publishing a set of resources for stores including a list of exemptions, posters to display in store and advice on how to make the law work in your store.

Find out more on our coronavirus information hub for retailers