The coronavirus cut the U.S. apparel and accessories specialty store business in half last month.
The Census Bureau said fashion specialty store sales fell a seasonally adjusted 50.5 percent to $11.1 billion last month, compared with February. Department stores sales fell 19.7 percent to $8.8 billion.
While people are stuck at home and glued to their computers, the official figures show only a small increase online.
Non-store retailers, a category that is dominated by e-commerce, saw sales increase just 3.1 percent in March.
The big sales gains came in essentials as people prepared to stay at home.
Grocery store sales rose 26.9 percent for the month and sales at general merchandise stores rose 6.4 percent, even though that increase included the massive decline at department stores.
Total retail sales fell 8.7 percent for the month even though the first half of the month was a relatively normal trading period.
And the retail pain is only expected to continue as America stays locked down for another month or more.
For companies that were already strained financially, either because they carried too much debt or couldn’t couldn’t connect with customers, the strain could just be too much.
The highly leveraged Neiman Marcus is said to have alerted lenders that will miss an interest payment today and could file for bankruptcy if some other option isn’t worked out. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. is also coming under the microscope.
The sudden lack of sales is a hole retailers won’t be able to plug anytime soon.
Once consumers do come back, they are expected to be tentative at first and retailers will in many cases have out of season look.
And the promotions are expected to be ferocious.
That might fuel something of a bounceback in sales, but bottom lines will continue to suffer.