Shoptalk is the latest conference to succumb to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.
Leaders of the annual retail and e-commerce event, set to be held later this month in Las Vegas, have decided to reschedule the conference to mid-September. Just this week, representatives of the conference had held firm that the four-day event would go on as planned, simply without attendees from certain countries, including China and Iran, where the COVID-19 virus, better known as the coronavirus, has been widespread.
“The guidance of various health and safety organizations and our commitment to ensuring the well-being of our community necessitated the shift,” an event spokeswoman said. “We considered input from many of our sponsors, attendees and speakers, as well as the impact of widespread corporate travel restrictions during March across the retail industry.”
The World Health Organization has yet to declare Coronavirus a global pandemic, but did declare it an emergency. The virus is a respiratory illness and is described by WHO as generally “mild” and only one in five of those affected are thought to be in need of hospital care, typically the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Although 3,200 people worldwide are thought to have died from the virus, leaving the current WHO estimated death rate of around 3 percent, there is still no accurate rate of death for the disease given there is no exact number of cases of the illness. Less than 100,000 people are confirmed with the illness so far — during the 2018 to 2019 regular flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 35.5 million people were infected with the Influenza virus. The percentage of those that die from Coronavirus is very likely to decrease substantially as the weeks go by and more cases are confirmed.
As for Shoptalk, the somewhat novel theme for this year’s conference was having a slate of all-female keynote speakers, including Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer of Walmart Inc.; Aly Raisman, Olympic gymnast and Aerie spokesperson; Liyan Chen, of Alibaba’s international corporate affairs, and Mary Beth Laughton, chief executive of Athleta, among dozens of others.
Whether or not this slate of women speakers will hold for six months is unclear. The Shoptalk spokeswoman said: “We’re working hard to transition our sponsors, attendees and speakers to the new dates.” The event’s other conference, Groceryshop, has also been rescheduled to next year.
Shoptalk has a lot of company among the trade show circuit. It seems almost a daily occurrence over the last two weeks, as numbers of people confirmed affected by the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S. grows, conferences of all sorts being canceled, largely in the technology sector. Major annual events like Google I/O, Facebook’s F8 event and Mobile World Congress have been canceled or postponed. Google also canceled its first News Initiative Summit and Disney called off this week’s press day in London for the European launch of its Disney+ streaming service. There’s even rampant speculation that this year’s summer Olympic Games, set to take place in Japan, will be rescheduled, though officials have, to this point, insisted the Games will go on as planned.
One holdout so far is festival South by Southwest, which has transformed in recent years from a music festival to something of a media, film and tech conference. It’s seen major sponsors and attendees like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Twitter pull out over the coronavirus, but as of now, SXSW is still set to happen next weekend.
All told, according to a report in Vox based on data analysis from PredictHQ, the economic impact from canceled conferences and the related travel and consumer spending is estimated to be around $500 million.
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