MEXICO CITY — Wal-Mart was the worst hit company during fuel-hike protests and lootings estimated to result in losses totaling 1.5 billion pesos, or $71 million, at retailers.
Demonstrators took to the streets Wednesday to protest against a 15 to 20 percent jump in fuel prices, adding salt to a wound stemming from a worsening economic outlook and soaring inflation. The so-called “gasolinazo” was aimed against Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose government’s energy reform promised to keep pump prices stable.
Retail lobbies Antad and the National Confederation of Commerce, Services and Tourism Chambers (Concanaco Servytur) reported nearly 1,200 retailers were vandalized as angry Mexicans ransacked stores in the marginal areas of Mexico State (home to Mexico’s capital) and in the impoverished Hidalgo, Veracruz and Chiapas States.
“The initial losses could be around 1.5 billion pesos,” Concanaco Servytur’s president Enrique Solana Sentíes, told WWD, adding that the losses could rise as many retailers are still calculating the damages.
He added some criminal groups specifically targeted American multinationals due to growing discontent against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-Mexico policies. “The lootings have had a very particular characteristic in that they have targeted American multinationals and department stores selling their goods,” Sentíes said. “Trump is talking too much about us and criticizing Mexico so the common Mexican says, ‘If I target a Wal-Mart, people are going to clap.’”
Many shopping malls carrying foreign labels such as Zara, Tommy Hilfiger or American Eagle closed for many hours Wednesday and partially on Thursday.
Beyond Wal-Mart, Sentíes added Coppel — a 1,000-strong department-store chain catering to low-income consumers — was also hit badly because it has stores in economically depressed areas, followed by hypermarket chains such as Soriana or Chedraui.
A spokeswoman for Walmex, as Wal-Mart Stores’ Mexican and Central American division is called, confirmed “some stores closed preventively and some for just a few hours,” without providing precise numbers.
She said most of the closings took place in Mexico City and Mexico State where Walmex has 200 and 400 shops, respectively, as well as in Hidalgo.
Local media reported the discounter shut its Superama high-end supermarkets, some Bodega Aurrerá mini-markets and one Sam’s Club in Polanco.
Concanaco Servytur’s Hidalgo president Ubaldo Ortega Perches, said Wal-Mart, Bodega Aurrera, Coppel, Soriana and Suburbia clothing stores (which retailer Liverpool recently bought from Wal-Mart) were robbed across Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico. “Many shopping malls closed,” he said. He noted Liverpool department stores were unaffected “because they hired private security.”
The El Palacio de Hierro store network, which sells luxury brands, was also unaffected, said a spokeswoman, adding that its Mexico State outlet is located in the wealthier Interlomas part of the state bordering Mexico City.
Perches said 80 percent of retailers shuttered Wednesday in Veracruz state and 70 percent in the city. “Psychosis took over and one of the largest malls, Plaza Galerias, which has Zara and Liverpool, closed for a while.” Smaller apparel and footwear stores also hung up “closed” signs.
The chaos ruined Mexico’s Three Kings Holiday with national sales expected to gain 5 percent versus a 20 percent target.
At press time Friday, protests had somewhat dwindled but were expected to continue, Sentíes said, adding that 1,000 people were arrested as 10,000 police and federal officers rushed to control the situation.
Still, retailers are reeling at a time when Christmas and Buen Fin — or Black Friday — turnover sharply missed expectations.
“We are living an extremely difficult situation, something this country has never experienced before,” Antad’s general manager Ignacio Tato concluded.