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How Retailers Are Responding to COVID-19: A Timeline

R/S

Coronavirus has hit the world—and the retail industry—hard. Some retailers are grappling with empty stores. Others with empty shelves. Some are just trying to stay afloat. All strive to serve their customers, the workforce, and their communities. 

As a partner to many in the retail industry, we’re gathering and sharing stories of how retailers are evolving their policies and communication in response to coronavirus in real time.

We’ll update the live blog regularly with links to important industry stories. If you’d like to share your business’s story or you come across other stories that move you, we’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to heidis@cb4.com.

 

March 27, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak isn’t stopping Lululemon. Their plan to double men’s revenue and digital growth by 2023 and quadruple international revenue remains intact, and all but one store in China has reopened for business. While stores in newly affected markets remain closed, the brand is engaging customers with free workouts. At the same time, the brand is cutting expenses like travel and new hires, while working with landlords to delay some store openings and remodels. 

  • Top Wall Street retail analyst names chains that could come out stronger after the crisis. 

JP Morgan analyst Matthew Boss has reason to be optimistic about retail’s future. He told CNBC that for all retailers, the #1 theme is survival. Discounters, dollar stores, off-pricers and strong global brands are especially well-poised come out of the pandemic in fighting shape, says Boss. He named names Dollar General, Ross Stores, Nike, and others as industry highlights. 

 

March 26, 2020

  • Citing the ‘most difficult decision’ in the company’s history, Nordstrom temporarily furloughs some corporate employees.

In an effort to curb operating expenses, capital expenditures, and working capital by $500 million, Nordstrom has announced they’ll furlough some corporate employees for six weeks. Erik and Pete Nordstrom will forego their own salaries for six months. 

  • $15 billion in tax savings is on the horizon for some US retailers. 

Some hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and other retailers stand to benefit from a possible change in tax code, which had been sought by the NRF and other lobbyists who had been pushing for this for over a year. 

  • Facing tough choices, DSW comes to a decision

DSW’s parent company Designer Brands Inc. has placed 80% 0f its 61,000-person workforce on unpaid leave effective March 29th. The employees who are not placed on leave will get pay reductions. Employees will continue to receive medical and dental benefits. 

  • Apple may begin reopening stores in April. 

Bloomberg reports that in an internal memo to employees, Apple’s Senior VP of People and Retail said stores outside greater China retail stores may reopen on a staggered basis starting in the first half of April. This will likely come as a relief to customers who did not pick up repaired devices before the retailer closed its doors. 

 

March 25, 2020

Effective today, the two retailers will work together to devote company time and resources to making protective masks, gowns, and scrubs for health care workers. The first shipment is scheduled to go out later this week. 

Aldi Germany has partnered with McDonalds Germany to convert McDonalds workers whose hours have been cut or reduced to temporary Aldi employees. This will keep McDonalds workforce employed, while helping Aldi meet “massive demand” for at-home food during the pandemic. 

  • Nike says digital gains offset retail losses. 

In promising retail news of the day, Nike says the sales plunge they suffered beginning in February when they closed stores in China was balanced by a spike in online demand. The company is also seeing early momentum in South Korea and Japan, where they also experienced temporary closures, and the expect to see the same in US and Europe. 

  • Albertsons installs Plexiglas to checkouts to keep shoppers and their workforce safe. 

Over the next two weeks, all Albertsons stores and all owned banners will receive Plexiglas checkout barriers between customers and associates. The measure will offer a little extra reassurance to those who visit or work in Albertsons stores. 

March 24, 2020

  • Apparel sellers prepare for markdowns. 

CNN Business shares what everyone knows: that a glut of unsold spring apparel is coming. Retailers will likely use a variety of venues to move the merchandise, including online channels and factory stores. Although discount chains like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross take a hit now, they’ll likely reap the benefit of scooping up apparel at low prices once summer and fall hit. 

 

March 23, 2020

  • More retailers announce hiring sprees.

Dollar General and CVS Health announce they’ll hire 50,000 workers a piece. For CVS, this includes store associates, home delivery drivers, distribution center employees, and customer service professionals. Roles will be hired via virtual job fairs and interviews. 

 

March 21, 2020

  • Supermarkets step up for their associates. 

Stop & Shop and Wegmans are two of a group of heroic grocers offering their store staff raises for showing up and serving shoppers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Stop & Shop is giving workers a 10% pay raise and two weeks of sick leave, while Wegman’s is providing an additional $2/hour, creating a job-protected leave program, and taking other measures to keep workers safe. 

 

March 20, 2020

  • H-E-B gives seniors personal shoppers. 

H-E-B and Favor Delivery have partnered to give seniors access to personal shoppers starting today. Shoppers 60 and over can call H-E-B and Favor’s “Senior Support” phone line or app to place orders for a curated lift of food and supplies available at H-E-B. In areas where the service is not yet available, the grocer is working with local nonprofits to provide vulnerable people with support. 

  • Costco modifies return policy to combat hoarding.

Costco’s new policy prohibits returns on toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, bottled water, Lysol cleaners, and rice. The move will likely reduce hoarding in an effort to serve more shoppers, allow the retailer to maintain sanitization standards, and keep store staff focused on ringing and re-stocking. 

  • “Essential retail” is on a hiring spree.

Walmart announces they’ll hire 150,00 new associates to work in stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers. The roles will be temporary at first, but many will convert to permanent opportunities over time.

7-Eleven says they expect to hire as many as 20,000 new employees to help the convenience giant ensure that directly-owned and franchise stores are clean and in-stock, and help the retailer meet a surge in mobile orders through its 7Now delivery app. 

Kroger, Save A Lot, and others will do the same. 

In preparation for softening demand in spring and summer, 136-year-old UK department store Marks & Spencer cancelled £100m-worth of clothing orders. The retailer expects “a return to normal trading in the autumn,” according to The Guardian.

 

March 19, 2020

VICE and others report that GameStop sent employees a memo saying that their stores constitute “essential retail” and should therefore remain open in light of local ordinances to close non-essential retail establishments. The memo reportedly directs employees to have local authorities call GameStop’s corporate office with objections. GameStop could not be reached for comment. 

  • The Gap announces store closures. 

The Gap, Inc. says it will temporarily shut down all Old Navy, Banana Republic, Gap, Athleta, Janie and Jack, and intermix stores in North America and pay workers for a period of two weeks. 

  • NRF urges federal government to provide relief for retailers. 

In a letter to President Trump and other government leaders, National Retail Federation CEO and President Matthew Shay called for mandatory default and foreclosure stays or federally ordered rent abatement for retailers facing closure, amongst other things. 

  • DTC brands rethink their physical retail presence. 

According to The Verge, direct-to-consumer mattress purveyor Tuft & Needle has closed all six of their retail stores and let got a portion of its staff, with hopes to rehire those employees once the stores reopen. Heidi Zak, CEO of bra company ThirdLove, emailed the company to say that the brand is “no longer planning to support a retail strategy” and will let retail employees go with severance and extended benefits. 

  • John Lewis explores new ways to connect with socially isolated shoppers. 

UK retailer John Lewis reveals they’re exploring digital services including online wellbeing, craft and cooking sessions to combat loneliness among socially isolated customers. The retailers also announces £1 million Community Support Fund and protected shopping times for the elderly and vulnerable.

 

March 18, 2020​

  • Fast fashion lends a hand.

The Inditex fashion group, owner of fast-fashion behemoth Zara, is using its resource to combat the spread of coronavirus. Based in Galicia, Spain, Inditex’s factories and logistics teams are donating masks and similar supplies they purchase directly to patients and medical workers in Spain. The company says they’re also looking into switching some textile-manufacturing capacity over to the production of health materials. 

  • Spikes in consumer demand extend beyond personal hygiene items and household staples. 

Best Buy tells the Star Tribune that they’re seeing an uptick in sales for work-at-home equipment like keyboards, monitors, and laptops. Freezers and refrigerators are also hot ticket items for the electronics seller. 

  • Cowen release initial numbers showing COVID-19’s impact on US retail foot traffic. 

CNN Business shares Cowen’s most recent data that US retail foot traffic decreased 3o.7% for the week ending Friday, compared to last year. 

The biggest mall owner in the U.S., Simon Property Group, announces that effective starting at 7pm all of its malls and outlet centers will be closed until March 29.

 

March 17, 2020

  • Federal trucker work rules temporarily suspended.

In an unprecedented move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lifted nationwide working hours-of-service laws for drivers moving supplies “in support of emergency relief efforts” related to COVID-19. With70% of the nation’s goods delivered by truck, this means truckers can more quickly replenish retailers and medical providers with critical supplies like food and disinfectants.  

  • AEO announces multifaceted support plan. 

The Pittsburgh-based apparel seller says they’ll compensate store associates while their US and Canada stores remain closed. At distribution centers, they’re maximizing cleaning measures and staggering shifts. They also set up a COVID-19 relief fund to help associates impacted by the health crisis and will provide support to impacted regions through their partnership with Good360.

 

March 16, 2020

  • More corporations find ways to help. 

LVMH announces they’re converting three perfume manufacturing facilities to produce hand sanitizer. By the end of the first week, LVMH will give 12 tons of hydroalcoholic gel at no charge to French authorities and the largest hospital system in Europe. 

  • Grocers set up special shopping hours for vulnerable community members. 

Noting the physically demanding and competitive shopping experience in stores, Woolworths of Australia announces they’ll open doors exclusively to the elderly and people with disability from 7am-8am. The supermarket had suspended home delivery in Victoria and in-store pick-up across Australia due to “extraordinary” demand. 

Look for more retailers to follow suit. 

 

March 14, 2020

  • Non-food retailers begin to close stores. 

Urban Outfitters, ApplePatagonia and others get ahead of the curve, and announce they’re closing all stores until the end of March…or longer. In each of these cases, store employees will continue to receive regular pay in accordance with business as usual. Patagonia’s will also shut down their website to protect all workers. 

  • Grocers re-strategize to meet demand.

Albertsons Cos. chief operating officer, Susan Morris, says surge in demand was more than expected. They opt to carry a smaller range of goods in hopes of speeding up the restocking process. 

Walmart, Wegmans, and H-E-B announce they’re narrowing hours at some locations to conduct deep cleanings and restock shelves. 

Meanwhile, smaller chains scramble to find unconventional suppliers and worry about getting their shelves stocked as suppliers prioritize bigger players. 

 

March 13, 2020

  • Major players announce they’re partnering with the federal government 

Walmart, Target, Walgreens, & CVS Health will make parking lot space available for drive-through Coronavirus tests. 

  • No guarantee on next-day delivery. 

Target interrupts next-day delivery for online orders. 

Amazon Prime Now, which delivers to some markets within a few hours, runs out of weekend delivery slots for certain cities, including New York. 

  • More good news from China

Apple reopens all stores in China, as CEO Tim Cook is “very optimistic” that the country has the virus under control. 

 

March 12, 2020

  • Added services get the kibosh

Ulta Beauty halts the in-store services its famous for, including skin, makeup, brow. Lash, and waxing services. The beauty behemoth also announces a “no-touch” approach to selling assistance like shade matching. 

  • Wawa partners with Red Cross to support the community.

The convenience retailer steps up by using their partnership with the Red Cross to provide customers and associates with health, safety, and preparedness tips in all stores and for download. Wawa creates a page on their website dedicate to Covid-19 FAQs, local store impact updates, and more. 

 

March 10, 2020

  • Supermarkets begin to ration staples.

Kroger limits online and in-store shoppers to five sanitizing, cold and flu products per order. They also suspend air travel for employees and recommend that internal and supplier meetings are conducted remotely.

Publix limits shoppers to two units of bleach, utensils, tissue, rubbing alcohol, and other similar products. 

Albertsons Cos. says its stores, including Safeway, Jewel-Osco, and Vons, are rationing popular products like hand sanitizers and household cleaners to four or five units, depending on the territory.

UK retailers like Tesco and Co-Op Group restrict purchase some shelf-stable goods like baked beans, bottled water, and long-life milk. 

  • Walmart announces new emergency leave policy

After a store associate in Cynthiana, Kentucky tests positive for coronavirus, the nation’s largest private employer announces any employee who has a confirmed case of coronavirus will receive two weeks of paid leave.

Additionally, employees who end up under mandated quarantine by Walmart or the government will receive up to two weeks of pay and be excused of any associated absences. Employees who feel “uncomfortable” working can abstain—without penalty—through April. 

 

March 7, 2020

  • The best things in life are no longer free.

Food retailers famous for their free samples pull them from the floor (like Costco) or modify policies in favor of individual servings (like Trader Joe’s). 

 

March 1, 2020

  • Grocers, pharmacies, and others brace for a surge in demand. 

Local chains like Raley’s Supermarkets say they’re working with supplies to ensure availability for critical products like hand sanitizer and tissue. 

Home Depot takes face masks off its website and limits in-store purchases to 10 masks per customer. 

Price gougers on Amazon strive to benefit from the impending pandemic. 

 

February 28, 2020

The mega-retailer sends an internal memo debriefing their associates on the virus and encouraging them to stay home while sick. 

  • Hope emerges as stores reopen in China

With new cases in China slowing, Starbucks announces they’ve reopened “hundreds” of stores there. 

 

January 28, 2020

  • American retailers in China act.

Starbucks temporarily closes 2000 stores in mainland China at the direction of local government. That’s more than half of its footprint in the country, which constitutes the coffee-seller’s second largest market. 

Apple closes one Chinese location and announces reduced operating hours and frequent deep cleaning for the others. 

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