Contact Us

Pent-Up Retail Demand Soared And Then Collapsed As Pandemic Re-Emerged

It’s too early to predict the death spiral of major department stores from the coronavirus, a new report from data firm concludes.

Though brick-and-mortar retail has shown signs of stronger market demand when shoppers gain enough confidence to re-enter stores, traffic has been highly dependent on the trajectory of new cases of the virus.

Placeholder's latest store traffic report said large department stores remain destinations for shoppers, but they can only keep their traffic on the rise when coronavirus infections are on the wane. 

Three U.S.-based department stores — Macy’s, JCPenney and Dillard's — witnessed substantial declines in store traffic when the coronavirus first broke out in March. Traffic numbers quickly rebounded in the early summer months when shoppers believed virus infection numbers were improving, but just as quickly fell when some markets got a second wave of cases.

Macy’s saw its traffic drop as much as 62.7% year-over-year in March and 88% in May, wrote. But by early June, as coronavirus cases appeared to be decreasing, Macy’s traffic bounced back, with June visits down just 56.1% from year-ago levels and July visits down only 44%.

Dillards and JCPenney experienced similar trends, with Dillard’s traffic down a sharp 70% in May and just 37.2% in June, bringing it closer to stable levels at the beginning of the summer. 

Penney’s traffic also fell 88% in May compared to year-ago levels and then rebounded to being down just 42% year-over-year for July. 

The numbers are tightly correlated to surges in the virus, and the three retailers suffered again when fear of rising coronavirus infection rates in Texas, Florida and other states derailed their traffic gains. Since mid-June traffic numbers have been falling steadily on a weekly basis, reports.

Macy's was doing very well for the week of June 15, when it hit a high point with traffic numbers that were down only 39.9% from the prior year. But since then, traffic has continued to fall on renewed virus fears, and traffic was back down to 45.7% below year-ago levels during the week of July 20. 

Dillard's reported June 15 traffic levels that were down just 26.7% from last year, but by July 20, traffic for the week was down 44.7% from that period in 2019.

Penney's hit a peak two months ago where traffic was down only 27% from 2019 levels. Since then, traffic has continually dropped, and during the week of July 20, visits came in 47% below the year prior.

“It increasingly appears that the success of this sector — at least in the short term — will depend on the government’s ability to effectively control the impact of the pandemic,”'s Jocelyn Bauer wrote in's report. “Should COVID’s reign continue deeper into 2020 and beyond, the effect could be very difficult to overcome.”