The surge of the Omicron variant threw a wrench in the retail recovery
In the second half of 2021, the narrative around physical retailing was that things were looking up. Foot traffic was returning and brands were planning ambitious new store openings across the country.
Then the Omicron variant hit, and many of the better-designed blueprints had to be rejected. At the end of 2021, the United States exceeded 2 million new cases in one week for the first time, and cases continue to spread across North America. Some stores have temporarily closed, while others have limited their hours or instituted capacity restrictions to help stop the spread. Meanwhile, others who have remained open and are hoping the Omicron variant’s spike will pass are facing sparse foot traffic.
Apple, for example, temporarily closed all its stores in New York, as well as a few in other regions, including Washington State, starting December 27. Some were closed out of caution, while others were due to too many employees testing positive for Covid-19 for enough staff in stores, according to Apple.
The SJP Collection, a Manhattan shoe store owned by Sarah Jessica Parker, also temporarily closed on December 28. The SJP Collection did not respond to a request for comment.
“It is our top priority to ensure the safety and health of our customers and staff,” said a statement from the brand’s Instagram account. “We’re sorry for any inconvenience and hope to see you soon.”
The brand announced Monday that the store will reopen on Tuesday, but with limited hours and capacity. Instead of being open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., it is now open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Stores that have remained open are seeing a decline in the upturn in foot traffic, according to some reports. A Saks Fifth Avenue employee told the New York Post that the weekend before Christmas saw far fewer customers entering the store than usual. According to Springboard, a company that tracks retail foot traffic, in-store visits increased in December compared to November, but were still 30% below 2019 levels. And retail sales growth is slower. than it would have been without Omicron, according to the company.
“The Omicron variant is undoubtedly holding back the progress made by physical retail, which is illustrated by [our] data showing retail jobs plunged 26% in one week [in mid-December], at a time when the demand for jobs in the retail industry is generally skyrocketing, ”said Andrew Hunter, co-founder of the job search platform Adzuna. “With the rapid spread of Omicron, we are seeing a significant impact on sectors such as airlines and travel, in particular, which will also move into retail, reversing progress in this area. More than 4,000 flights have been canceled because of Omicron, and other industries like hotels and restaurants have been hit hard.
Public Rec, a sportswear company, kept its two stores in New York and Chicago open throughout the Omicron outbreak. However, founder and CEO Zach Goldstein said the impact of the variant made him rethink plans to open future retail stores.
“Omicron has definitely had an impact on the way we think about stores,” Goldstein said. “For our currently open stores, we saw less impact in Chicago and more in New York. However, as we assess new locations for 2022, we’ve started to think more seriously about selecting retail locations that might be less affected by what looks like the endless ebb and flow of COVID-19. To know, [that includes] places that have had foot traffic in the past six months, as the number of cases has fluctuated [like Chicago]. “
But Omicron’s impact on retail may prove short-lived. In South Africa, where the Omicron wave started weeks before the United States, the number of new Omicron cases faded on Monday, which could mean the United States will experience a similar drop in a few weeks.