Amid all the darkness and despair of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s hope for a business resurgence post-crisis.
According to new research and some official government commentary, people miss shopping in stores and the economy could have a robust rebound in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“It’s clear that people are getting antsy and ready to get back to some form of normalcy including shopping in-store,” said Greg Petro, chief executive officer of First Insight, which found in a survey that 60 percent of consumers in the U.S. feel stores should reopen by the end of May.
In its survey of more than 500 consumers conducted April 3, First Insight also found some optimism among consumers living in several COVID-19 hot spots. Forty-three percent of respondents living in Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco felt stores should reopen by the end of April or early May, though only 35 percent of respondents in the New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut area felt the same. The survey was performed before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order extending the New York “pause” to the end of April.
Consumers in the greater Seattle area were the least optimistic, with only 28 percent of respondents agreeing stores should reopen by the end of April or early May.
Petro did note that “the continuing increases in percentages of those worried about the coronavirus in the last weeks points to the true reality of the situation. We may still have a way to go. That said, it is important that retailers and brands continue planning by ensuring they have the right product and price when the time comes, even if it’s just being offered online for now. It’s a delicate balance, but those who are connected closest with their customers will be best aligned should they be given the green light to reopen their doors.”
The latest survey from First Insight was released the same day that Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell predicted a “robust” economic rebound in the aftermath of the pandemic when the U.S. economy, now in a virtual shutdown, can rev up again. The optimism springs in part from the Fed’s announcement of a new $2.3 trillion financing package for small and large businesses, maintaining interest rates at about zero and other ways to keep businesses and families financially viable. “When the spread of the virus is under control, businesses will reopen, and people will come back to work,” Powell said. “There is every reason to believe that the economic rebound, when it comes, can be robust.”
Jefferies Research sounded a somber note on Thursday. “We have usually been optimistic about the U.S. consumer, but we are currently much more cautious given a view that extended store closures will get consumers used to staying at home, accelerate the shift to online and consumers will be used to buying less. Not a good combo.”
Further adding to the challenges confronting retailers, the weekly jobless claims hit 6.6 million, which was just slightly below the 6.8 million jobless claims the week before.
Standard & Poor’s issued a report indicating that department stores have seen their odds of default on debt within the next year “spike” over the past month, noting that this group of retailers was already struggling before the outbreak. S&P Global Market Intelligence’s is based on fluctuations in share prices and country and industry-related risks. “Retailers dependent on foot traffic at malls as well as hotels and casinos that rely on leisure travelers were among the groups that saw their odds of default tick up the most,” S&P indicated.
“Department stores, including Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc.,offer one example. At 42.1 percent, the [department store] category had the highest median one-year probability of default of any consumer industry as of April 7,” S&P reported. The Neiman Marcus Group is also considered a potential bankruptcy.
S&P also indicated that a number of travel and leisure focused sectors, including hotels, resorts and cruise lines, followed department stores on its list of consumer industries with the highest median one-year probability of default as of April 7. On the other hand, S&P cited consumer staples, food retailers and household products as having the lowest rate of default going forward.
While it’s obvious that first-quarter reports from many retailers will be dismal — Nordstrom has already warned of a significant decline — second-quarter results “may also be challenged as store closures could last through May and potentially through the end of June,” Jefferies Research reported Thursday.
“We believe mall traffic, while already in decline, will only decelerate further, putting mall-based retailers like Bath & Body Works at massive risk. In addition, strip mall traffic could be impaired, as we believe the number of general shopping trips will decelerate further until the virus is fully eradicated,” Jefferies added.
“Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works are overstored, and a significant portion of their sales depends on store traffic. Bulls believe BBW may flourish from selling hand soap (15 percent of sales) and sanitizer (5 percent of sales), but we believe this notion is flawed given consumers won’t drive out of their way to buy these products when they can get them at a nearby supermarket or drugstore.”
Planet Fitness, Grocery Outlets Holdings and Ollie’s Bargain Outlets were among those retailers best positioned in the current economic climate, according to Jefferies.
Among other findings from First Insight’s April 3 survey:
- Concerns about the impact of the coronavirus are growing, with 87 percent of consumers saying they are worried, versus 71 percent in the mid-March survey.
- 32 percent of respondents felt stores should open by the end of April/beginning of May, though optimism was higher in several coronavirus hot spots.
- Millennials are proving to be the most hopeful that stores will be opening sooner, with 39 percent of Millennials feeling stores should be open by the end of April/early May, compared to 31 percent of Gen Z, 30 percent of Gen X, and 28 percent of Baby Boomers.