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Traffic to US retail stores has almost entirely vanished due to Covid-19

Workers wait for customers at a Macy's store.
Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

At many malls and retail stores around the US, foot traffic has been in decline for some time.

Even so, they’ve never seen anything like this.

In a research note sent to clients today, investment firm Cowen and Company estimated total foot traffic to US retailers was down 97.6% for the week through March 27 compared to the same time last year. It has come to a “near complete halt,” Cowen said, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Many stores across the country are closed, of course, so shoppers couldn’t visit even if they wanted. Retailers have voluntarily shuttered stores to protect workers and help slow the virus’s spread. Simon Property Group, the largest mall owner in the US, closed its malls through at least the end of March. At the same time, large swaths of the country are under shelter-in-place orders, keeping shoppers at home, while cities that usually have high volumes of retail traffic, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, have ordered all but essential businesses closed.

Grocery stores and chains such as Walmart, Target, and Costco are still open and seeing shoppers coming in to stock up on necessities. But many other retailers are effectively shut down. Cowen estimated total traffic to clothing retailers specifically had plunged 99.3%. Online sales haven’t been enough to compensate as shoppers pause spending on anything but necessities. Companies including Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, and JCPenney have announced they will furlough workers without pay, leaving hundreds of thousands temporarily without jobs.

The crisis isn’t near an end either. As of now, federal social-distancing guidelines are to remain in place in the US until at least April 30.

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