Macy’s. Nordstrom. Apple. Sephora.
The list of stores temporarily shuttering their locations in response to the coronavirus pandemic grows longer each day, with most saying they plan to reopen in roughly two weeks.
But that looks like a stretch.
The calendar may be well into spring, or even early summer before shoppers can stroll store aisles again, as coronavirus cases and deaths mount, more cities advise residents to shelter in place, and the crisis continues with no clear endpoint in sight.
“A lot of stores claim they will open at the end of March or very early April,” says Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy Global Data. “That’s very unrealistic. I think the earliest they will open is in late April or early May. The worst case is that large numbers of stores and malls could be closed until the summer. It is hard to have any certainty right now.”
More than 50 retailers have announced that they are temporarily closing locations because of concerns about COVID-19, from toy haven Build-A-Bear, to beauty giant Sephora, to department store mainstays J.C. Penney and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mall owner Simon Property Group announced Wednesday that it is closing its U.S. centers through March 29. Westfield, which operates 32 malls across the country will only allow “essential” retail shops to stay open during a ten-day period this month.
And starting Friday, Taubman Centers is shuttering all but two of its properties through March 29.
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“We are clearly in unprecedented times and this is the right decision for our shoppers, retailers, employees and these communities,” CEO Robert S. Taubman said in a statement.
Retailers are leaving themselves wiggle room, noting that while they are setting an end date for their shutdowns, decisions to reopen will ultimately be based on discussions with lawmakers and health experts.
“We will work with government and health officials to assess when we will reopen our stores and safely bring our colleagues back to work,” Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said in a statement announcing the retailer would shutter all of its stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, from March 17 through March 31.
It looks increasingly unlikely that business will be returning to normal any time soon.
With the national death toll from COVID-19 climbing above 200, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order Thursday advising residents to stay at home. And Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses to close or risk enforcement from state police.
“It might be that openings are varied by region or state depending on the severity of the virus,” Saunders says.
In light of the fast-changing developments, “the initial two week period is the minimum we can expect,” Michael Brown, partner in the consumer practice of Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm, said of store closures.
“There does not seem to be a slowing in the number of new cases, and state and federal authorities are not expressing confidence in their readiness to deal with the potential influx of patients into the hospitals,” Brown added. “We are in uncharted territory.”