U.S. Malls May Be Hit Hard by the Coronavirus

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began last year, shopping malls in China have been all but deserted. And a new study is forecasting that U.S. malls may soon see a sharp decline in traffic, too, as the coronavirus fans out across America.

A report from Coresight Research found that U.S. consumers could change their shopping habits dramatically in the coming weeks or months, impacting retailers and the larger economy in ways that will be difficult to recover from.

People are already staying home. Fifty-eight percent of the 1,934 U.S. consumers 18 and older who were polled for the study say they’re likely to avoid public areas such as shopping centers and entertainment venues if the virus’ outbreak worsens in the United States. Over one-quarter of respondents said they already avoid public places or have changed travel plans. Malls, shopping plazas, and other public spaces will be hardest hit, followed by restaurants and movie theaters.

The survey was taken before California announced that it was monitoring 8,400 people for the virus.

Older consumers, specifically, said they won’t be venturing out if the spread continues (and the CDC says it will). Nearly nine in 10 respondents over the age of 60 said they’re likely to avoid public places.

Before the retail decline, which appears inevitable, U.S. consumers have been spending—stocking up on toilet paper, medical supplies, and frozen and shelf-stable foods. We couldn’t find any hard numbers on how much this stockpiling is boosting consumer spending.

Anecdotally, at the Wegmans grocery store in Fairfax, Va., Sunday night, two checkout employees told this reporter they’ve never seen a bigger rush to buy so many canned and frozen goods. And the hand sanitizer shelf was completely bare—as is the virtual shelf of hand sanitizer on Amazon.com. 

The U.S. recorded its first two deaths from the coronavirus this week, and infection rates are climbing. There are 88 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S, spread out over several states. 

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