The National Retail Federation (NRF) and Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) on Monday urged caution as policymakers move to shutter stores in an effort to stem the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family. Governors and mayors should "reach out to retail leaders before issuing decisions to close or curtail retail business operations," according to a letter to the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors emailed to Retail Dive.
That followed a joint statement from the groups Sunday imploring consumers to avoid panic buying or hoarding of household essentials and instead "shop responsibly." The organizations sought to assure a public on high alert that "Retail supply chains remain strong."
The groups on Sunday also hailed the declaration of a national emergency Friday as "a critical step toward ensuring that our communities, our friends and our families will have the resources necessary to protect their safety and security and provide a level of clarity during an uncertain time," according to a press release.
Amid increasing reports of clusters of outbreaks of COVID-19 in the U.S. in recent days, political leaders in Washington, D.C., and several states and cities have taken more drastic actions, including shuttering schools and the gathering of larger groups and urging Americans to remain at home. Retailers have scrambled to restock shelves as panic buying has ensued.
"This is an unprecedented situation that demands an ‘all hands-on deck' approach, and community retailers are eager to do their part," Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement on Monday. "Whatever the challenge, retailers have prepared in advance to serve the critical needs of their customers and employees. They can quickly and thoughtfully adjust a wide variety of practices, including supply chains, stores, and policies impacting communities they serve."
Taken together, the statements released by the retail organizations in the past couple of days sought to reverse mounting panic buying by reaching out both to customers and their political leaders.
"If you don't need an item in the next two weeks, leave it for someone who does," the groups urged Sunday, noting that the elderly and other populations most vulnerable to the virus are more likely to go without. "Hoarding and stockpiling creates unnecessary gaps between the time that someone who truly needs a product can find it back on retailers' shelves."
RILA president Brian Dodge in a statement Monday admonished politicians to work with retailers when deciding whether to lock up store doors. "Families are counting on retailers right now and retailers are determined to be there for them," he said, adding that retailers need time to make plans for their employees and surrounding communities. "We encourage elected officials to make every attempt to communicate with retail leaders to discuss recommendations on whether to close or curtail business operations."
The statements also followed a White House press conference late Friday, where the top executives of Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens said they would open parking lots of their brick-and-mortar locations for makeshift operations, including testing of the virus. All said they are working to replenish shelves of swiftly disappearing goods.
"Normally, you view us as competitors, but today we're focused on a common competitor, and that's defeating the spread of the coronavirus," Target CEO Brian Cornell said during the event, which also included President Trump, representatives from medical labs and others.