Why China outbreak could affect back-to-school shopping

People line up to receive free face masks to protect themselves against the Wuhan coronavirus at a pharmacy in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China on Jan. 28, 2020.

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People line up to receive free face masks to protect themselves against the Wuhan coronavirus at a pharmacy in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China on Jan. 28, 2020.
  • February is typically a light month for shipping out of China.
  • If other transporation industries follow the airlines, delivery could be disrupted.
  • Any slowdown would surface in spring at the earliest but could impact back-to-school.

Shoppers aren’t likely to immediately see gaps on store racks in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China. That could change if efforts to contain the virus put a crimp in the making and delivery of goods.

“As of right now, we have not heard of any impact from our members,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group.

“I think retailers are all taking an assessment … to figure out what their exposure is, what’s the potential impact and looking at putting contingency plans to put in place if need be,” he said. 

Coronavirus has sickened more than 6,000 people and killed at least 133 in China, leading McDonald’s and Starbucks to close hundreds of Chinese locations, airlines to cancel flights and companies to take safety precautions to keep their employees safe. 

FedEx said it follows directions from Chinese officials on containing the virus, which “may affect shipments inbound and outbound to/from Wuhan as well as shipments moving within Wuhan.” The delivery company has roughly 9,500 employees in China and 220 flights a week out of five Chinese airports.

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