Georgia gives a glimpse of what reopening retail looks like

Retailers are closely watching the consumer reaction in Georgia, as it is among the first states to begin a phased reopening of its economy.

Salons, gyms and tattoo parlors were given permission by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to reopen last Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants on Monday. While health officials and governments are closely monitoring developments in areas that are reopening, so are retailers.

The country’s nonessential store retail sector has been closed a month or more for the first time in history. It is impossible to know how consumers will react to a new normal, if they come back to shop, and how habits might have changed.

Retailers such as those that sell apparel and other nonessential goods have not yet been given the go-ahead to reopen in the Peach State, and when authorities lift closures, it remains to be seen which retailers will choose to immediately reopen. 

Simon Property Group, the largest U.S. mall owner, is preparing to reopen 49 malls and outlet centers this Friday through Monday, according to an internal memo obtained by CNBC.  The sites include Lenox Square in Atlanta and Calhoun Outlet Marketplace in Calhoun. 

Retailers Citi Trends and Cato Corp. have a higher concentration of their total store footprint in Georgia than many other publicly traded retailers, according to data provided by Thasos. Eleven percent of Citi Trends 570 stores are in Georgia. Cato, which owns It’s Fashion, Cato Fashions and Versona stores, has nearly 9% of 1,300 total locations in Georgia.

Many other retailers have around 4% of total store locations in Georgia, including Children’s Place, American Eagle Outfitters, Chico’s FAS and the stores under Ascena Retail Group, such as Ann Taylor and Justice.

Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, L Brands‘ Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, along with Gap‘s stores, which include Old Navy and Banana Republic, have around 3% of total U.S. stores in the state.

Will shoppers return?

But it’s unclear if retailers with a larger footprint in areas that reopen will see a sales resurgence.

Surveys suggest Americans may be reluctant to head to public places, even as authorities allow doors to open to once again serve the public. Nearly a dozen states have announced plans to roll back some coronavirus restrictions including Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont. The timing of rollbacks and what’s allowed vary widely. 

Coresight found that more than two-thirds in its survey plan to avoid some kind of public place or plan to change travel plans after lockdowns end.

By specific location, shopping centers and malls were the top place consumers plan to avoid, at more 45%. Consumers showed a bit more willingness to come back to shops, with just 28% planning to steer clear in Coresight’s survey.

In a separate survey, shoppers expressed various levels of fearfulness about physical locations, with just 33% telling First Insight they feel safe going to a mall, though over half said they feel safe in a grocery store. However, there was a clear gender divide, with women more fearful than man about all formats. That could be significant because women largely do most of the shopping in the U.S. Less than a quarter of women said they felt comfortable shopping in a mall compared with 41% of men.

Movie theaters is third at just under 44% of men and women surveyed. More than a third plan to stay away from dining-in at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, just under third aren’t interested in coming back to gyms.

There’s less reluctance to avoid salons and barber shops. Possibly, desperation to maintain one’s appearance may be prompting consumers to be willing to take a risk. Just 18% said they will continue to avoid grooming locations, according to Coresight.

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