On a week-to-week basis, retail sales are bleeding less and stabilizing, according to two reports released today. But, year-over-year, sales remain dismal.
The trends were revealed as several major retailers continue to struggle and face bankruptcy while many slowly open stores — despite several reports this week that predicted higher mortalities this summer from the coronavirus. And for companies looking to open stores over the next few weeks, industry analysts are urging caution and thoughtful planning.
In regard to weekly sales, The Retail Economist-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index showed a week-to-week decline of 0.1 percent for the period ended May 2. Michael P. Niemira, chief economist of The Retail Economist LLC, said in the report that on a year-over-year basis, sales dropped 19.4 percent while noting that sales trends are mirroring “mobility data.”
“As some of the ‘nonessential’ retail sector has just reopened late last week or is poised to reopen in parts of the country, overall retail sales appear to be stabilizing, but at a relatively depressed pace,” Niemira said. “This stabilization in sales appears to be mirrored in some other innovative data, such as the Google Mobility Indexes for the United States that track ‘movement trends over time by geography, across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential.’”
In a separate report from The NPD Group today, spending showed an improvement for a fourth straight week. The firm said retail spending in key categories was up 7 percent compared to the prior week. NPD data tracks softlines, home goods and consumer electronics, among other segments. The TRE-GS Weekly Chain Store Sales Index, by comparison, is much broader.
NPD said in their report that as “promising as these spending indicators may seem, there are many challenges to overcome before there is actual retail recovery.”
Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry adviser for retail, said the weekly sales performance “may be the beginning of a promising pattern for retail, but there are still many hurdles to overcome. The consumer’s buying behavior has been consistently changing over the past several weeks, and with much uncertainty still looming, it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”
Cohen said the industry will likely still see “many ups and downs along the road to retail recovery as consumers enter the various phases of realizing a new normal. As the consumer’s lifestyle goes through this transformation, retail needs to hone in on opportunities to address those changes in order to achieve sustainable long-term growth.”
In a report from Telsey Advisory Group, Dana Telsey, chief research officer, echoed Cohen’s sentiment and also said “returning to some semblance of normalcy is greatly desired by everyone. And, it is well-recognized that it won’t be the same ‘normal.'”
“With safety and health at the top of the page in order to ensure that the COVID-19 virus doesn’t spread, new rules of engagement are beginning to be thought of and put in place,” Telsey explained. “The one clear determinant from all is that these new protocols are not only all subject to change, but will change given the uncharted path of this invisible virus and flexibility is necessary in order to win this battle and adopt new ways to socialize, interact, gather safely, engage and shop.”
Telsey presented a road map for reopening physical stores, and also stressed that the COVID-19 outbreak has put a spotlight on the importance of brick-and-mortar stores. She noted two “key learnings” during the outbreak. The first is that “physical venues are essential to sales and profits, given online is a channel option but can’t replace the volume and profits of sales generated by physical venues.” And secondly, that reopenings will be “eagerly awaited in order to assess if consumer businesses, such as retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues, are generating sufficient sales to be profitable.”
Telsey’s strategies for reopenings include taking a “phased-in approach” by region as well as limited hours, creating a healthy and safe shopping venue, and reworking in-store traffic slow patterns. Limiting the number of shoppers, implementing various health controls (such as mask and glove requirements) and expanding curbside pick up should also be considered.