Retail outlets were struggling to stay in business even before covid-19 came and decimated the economy. Now, the future of brick-and-mortar stores is looking bleaker than ever, with businesses unlikely to return at the same scale—or at least in the same form—in which they previously existed even once the virus dies down.
On Monday, Macy’s announced that it would furlough most of its employees beginning this week, maintaining only the “absolute minimum” workforce required to maintain operations at Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Bluemercury.
“The COVID-19 outbreak continues to take a heavy toll on Macy’s Inc. business. Our top priority is the health and safety of our customers, colleagues and communities during this unprecedented crisis,” the company told Women’s Wear Daily. “While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures.”
Even when business resumes, the department store says it plans to bring back employees on a “staggered basis,” according to Business of Fashion.
Meanwhile, throw pillow and wicker furniture purveyor Pier 1 Imports canceled its plan to auction its stores. Kohl’s is furloughing store and store distribution center associates, and Gap Inc.—which operates Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and Intermix—is furloughing the majority of its store employees across the U.S. and Canada.
In Wuhan, retailers are slowly beginning to reopen after authorities began lifting controls on the area. But shoppers haven’t made a major reappearance, with customers still “scarce.”
A column in Forbes predicts that the results of covid-19 may be indelible:
“Even well-positioned retailers may find they have to permanently close under-performing stores and take drastic cost cutting efforts to bolster their balance sheets. It’s easy to imagine the U.S. having 20 percent less retail space by the end of the pandemic.”