As Many Shoppers Stay Close to Home Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Local Retailers Could See Sales Boost

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. this week, thousands of people are unexpectedly working from home and canceling trips. This new focus on staying local could translate into a sales boost for some retailers in coming months.

Daniel Carlson, co-owner of Likelihood, a sneaker destination in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, said the sneaker store has recently seen a 20% dip in foot traffic, a ripple effect of the virus. But of those visitors who are shopping, more are buying, he noted.

Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia and other Seattle area companies have directed their employees to work from home as the coronavirus hits the region hard.  Carlson, who also sells gifts, has seen some of these consumers come into the store to browse its selection of picks and buy items such as candles.

Still, the store owner lamented the cancellation of Emerald City Comic Con, which had been slated for this week, and other events that could have driven more people into the store. “We get famous gamers up here because the Capitol Hill [area] is popular,” he said. “The convention center is just down the hill toward downtown.”

For Colburn Shoe Store in Belfast, Maine, a 90-minute drive from Acadia National Park, owner Colby Horne said the store could see an uptick in business this summer as tourists opt for vacations closer to home.

“I see the possibility for us being impacted positively in our area where you have to get here by car,“ he said. “You can’t fly in easily. You have to take your personal vehicle. [Folks who have further-flung] vacations cancelled [might] say, ‘I hear the coast of Maine is great in the summer and we’ll take a ride up there.’ I see the opportunity for us to capitalize on the [situation].”

Stores with locations near national parks could benefit overall, according to HotelPlanner, a provider of online group hotel bookings and event management services. “We’re paying close attention to sites like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone [because] we are forecasting that National Parks will be big winners this summer, said Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner. “People are generally wanting to stay away from the major crowds but also want to take advantage of the low cost of travel right now. We are predicting many last-minute bookings.”

While some people might be fearful of crowds, others seem undeterred at least for now.

In Orlando, for example, Disney World — the most visited theme park in the world — is operating as usual. But retailers predict that things could change in the coming months. Already, McDonald’s has turned its worldwide convention, set for April in Orlando, into an online event.

“With what’s happened in China and Disneyland there, and the quarantines in Italy, we’re figuring it’s a matter of time before something happens here,” said Anoop Dani, owner of That Shoe Store & More in Orlando, Fla. “We have not seen much of a decrease as of yet. It’s [uncertain] going forward. It a light switch that will possibly be turned off.”

According to Ethan Chernofsky, VP of Marketing of Placer.ai, while the coronavirus is having an impact across the board, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all effect.

The major takeaway is that there won’t be a single blanket impact on the entire retail landscape. Instead, it will likely produce consequences that range by region, industry and other factors, Chernofsky concluded.

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