CORONAVIRUS

Americans cut back on trips to the store as virus spreads

In Cedar Rapids, shelves that normally carry hand-sanitizer products sat empty Tuesday morning at the Hy-Vee on Edgewood
In Cedar Rapids, shelves that normally carry hand-sanitizer products sat empty Tuesday morning at the Hy-Vee on Edgewood Road NE and the Walmart along Edgewood Road SW. (Bloomberg photo of a New Jersey Walmart by Timothy Fadek)

Visits to U.S. stores fell for a fourth straight week, as confirmed cases of the coronavirus spread across the country.

Foot traffic decreased 3.3 percent in the week through Feb. 28 after gains in January, according to location-data provider Prodco Analytics. A main driver of the decline was the first decrease in six weeks at chains that sell apparel, a mostly discretionary purchase.

To be sure, Americans have been reducing their visits to stores and shopping malls for years with the growth of e-commerce. However, concerns over the virus and its impact on the economy are growing.

While Americans have been reducing visits to stores and shopping malls for years with the growth of e-commerce, they have been stocking up on hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

In Cedar Rapids, shelves that normally carry hand-sanitizer products sat empty Tuesday morning at the Hy-Vee on Edgewood Road NE and the Walmart along Edgewood Road SW. Only a few dispensers were left at the nearby Super Target store on Edgewood Road SW.

“Hy-Vee, like other retailers, is seeing a higher demand than normal for hand sanitizer,” company spokeswoman Christina Gayman told The Gazette in an email. “We do still have it in stock throughout the Cedar Rapids area, and continue to receive regular shipments at all stores.”

Outside of that demand, she said, Hy-Vee is not experiencing any other impacts.

Overall, concerns over the virus and its effects on the economy are growing. Consumer sentiment fell on Monday to the lowest level since mid-December, according to Morning Consult.

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Americans also are more pessimistic about the future of their personal finances and business conditions, with that measure sinking to the lowest since November, the researcher said.

“The implications for retail could be larger than initially anticipated from both demand and supply chain perspectives,” Oliver Chen, an analyst at Cowen and Co., wrote in a note on Monday.

Declining consumer confidence, potentially severe retail traffic declines and temporary store closures are potential negative factors, he said.

Retail giants Walmart and Best Buy already have said the outbreak could cloud their full-year outlooks.

Gazette reporter Thomas Friestad contributed to this story.

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