NRF: Widespread Shutdowns and Closures Are Unlikely Amid Omicron Surge

A recent spike in national COVID-19 cases is threatening recovery efforts across the retail sector. But according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, widespread shutdowns and store closures that happened in March 2020 are unlikely this time around.

“Even with the experience of the past two years, there is no model that can predict how the economy responds to a pandemic,” Kleinhenz said in a Wednesday release. “What we have learned is that each successive variant has slowed down the economy but that the degree of slowdown has been less.”

The U.S. hit a pandemic record on Monday, with over 1 million cases, the Wall Street Journal reported. In New York City, cases are rising sharply as well across all boroughs, with 18 neighborhoods recording a 7-day positivity rate of 40% or higher in the last week of December.

At the onset of the pandemic, major retailers shuttered their stores for months. According to Kleinhenz, the effects highly-transmissible Omicron variant are often more mild for vaccinated people, so he does not expect lockdowns this time around.

Thus far, only a few retailers have closed or limited hours at their stores. Apple temporarily closed all of its New York City stores for in-person shopping last week but is now allowing customers to come in on a limited basis, after facing backlash.

In December, Walmart temporarily closed almost 60 store locations out of its more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the U.S., a company spokesperson confirmed to FN. These closures were meant to be a “proactive measure intended to present a safe and clean in-store environment for our associates and customers,” the spokesperson said, adding that Walmart has taken similar measures since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

And just yesterday, Macy’s said it is temporarily shortening its store hours for the month of January at all stores, a spokesperson confirmed to FN. All Macy’s stores will be open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Some locations previously opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 9 p.m., Macy’s website shows. Store hours from Friday through Sunday will not change.

“The health and safety of our customers and colleagues remain our top priority,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Our store colleagues will continue to work their normal allocated hours. We will continue to monitor the situation and follow the CDC and jurisdictional guidelines as well as keep enhanced safety and wellness procedures in place.”

Other stores have yet to publicly announce shortened hours. And while uncertainty and inflation are a given, shutdowns will probably be avoided.

“If there is one lesson we have learned, it is not to underestimate the resilience of the consumer and, therefore, the U.S. economy,” Kleinhenz said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of tailwind in terms of job growth, spending and production as we turn the calendar to 2022.”

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