Welcome to The Backroom, your window into what goes on behind the scenes as the Retail Dive team covers the stories and trends reshaping retail. You can check out all our podcast episodes (past and present) here and listen on Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio and Spotify.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced much of the retail industry to temporarily shutter their doors, either by choice or by mandate, in order to help slow the spread of the virus. E-commerce can only do so much to make up for the loss of in-store sales. March apparel sales fell some 52% year over year, based on Department of Commerce data.
But for mass merchants, like Walmart and Target, and grocery stores, the impact of the outbreak has been different. Stores have remained open and sales were up. According to the Commerce Department, March sales at general retailers, which includes mass merchants, warehouse clubs and supercenters, were up 3.9% from the prior year to $62 billion. Grocery stores saw March sales rise 30% year over year to $73 billion. While discretionary retailers were laying off or furloughing entire workforces, these retailers have brought on thousands of employees to help keep up with demand, implemented safety protocols to protect both workers and shoppers, and been forced to ration some of the goods they sell.
On this episode of The Backroom with Retail Dive, senior reporters Daphne Howland and Ben Unglesbee spoke with Jeff Wells, senior editor at sister publication Grocery Dive, about how the entire industry is responding to the coronavirus and how it may shape consumer shopping habits in the future.