These aren’t the only factors threatening brick-and-mortar locations. The pandemic has forced consumers to do more of their shopping online. For many it could become a long-term habit. As that happens, companies are likely to respond by shifting investment to their digital businesses. Stores may become even less important as distribution points for products, leading companies to rethink their number, size, and purpose.

“Going forward we will see smaller stores that hold less inventory, that are very adept and capable of introducing a consumer to product and then facilitating an online relationship with that consumer over the long-term,” Stephens says.

In all, the result could be a US retail landscape that looks a bit more like that in China, where e-commerce accounted for an estimated 36.6% of sales of goods and services in 2019, according to research firm eMarketer. Data from the St.Louis Fed shows that, in the US at the end of 2019, e-commerce was 11.4% of retail. For now that number has skyrocketed, with effects on store counts that could last well past the pandemic.

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