retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and recovery efforts, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, there now are 1,902,101 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 109,146 deaths and 688,692 reported recoveries.

Globally, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has reached 6,591,382, with 388,353 fatalities and 3,183,701 reported recoveries.

From Axios this morning:

"Texas, Arizona and Oregon saw significant spikes last week in new coronavirus infections, while cases also continued to climb in a handful of states where steady increases have become the norm."

The story notes that the spikes could just be the result of improved testing accessibility.

But, in Texas "the spike in recorded cases does seem to reflect an actual increase in new infections — not just better testing.  Testing in Texas increased by 36% over the past week, while the number of confirmed infections rose by 51%.

"Texas also saw an increase in the percentage of all coronavirus tests that came back positive. In a state where testing is improving and the underlying outbreak isn't getting worse, you'd expect the share of positive tests to go down."

Axios concludes:  "Nationwide, new cases have plateaued over the past week. To get through this crisis and safely continue getting back out into the world, we need them to go down — a lot."

•  Business Insider reports that "Nevada is allowing some hotels and casinos to reopen on Thursday as part of the second phase of the state's reopening plan.

"But Las Vegas casinos won't look quite the same as they did before the coronavirus pandemic. Before reopening, casinos must submit a plan to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that ensures proper hygiene and social distancing measures will be in place."

The BI story says that "for MGM Resorts, whose Las Vegas properties include Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and New York-New York, that means enacting a 'Seven-Point Safety Plan' that calls for employee screening, social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols, and hand-washing stations on casino floors. Employees will be required to wear masks, while guests will be encouraged to do so. In some parts of the resort, like at roulette tables, guests will be required to wear masks."

One has to wonder if all these restrictions will cause Las Vegas's traditional customers to says, "All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me…"

•  Bloomberg has a story about how London's iconic department store, Harrods, will reopen its one million square foot Knightsbridge store on June 15, though it will be an altered environment for a changed reality.

The Harrods website makes clear that when the store reopens, "footfall monitoring technology will be in operation to limit capacity in-store and ensure social distancing can be maintained. Clear signage will direct customers and employees safely around the store, and specific doors will be designated for entering and exiting the building. Furthermore, an enhanced cleaning program has been introduced, including hand sanitiser stations established across the store and at the entrance and exit points."

Bloomberg notes that Harrods' "cafes, wellness clinic and beauty salons will remain closed for the time being. It’s also not clear when the many personalized services that Harrods offers - from gift wrapping and bed linen customization to its “discreet” invitation-only personal shopping for its richest customers - will resume."

Some of the problems are simultaneously structural and historical:  "The building, with its terracotta exterior and grand dome, was built in 1883 and has multiple entry points and a warren of underground tunnels. There are 16 escalators within the buildings, multiple stairwells, and—in normal times—a bustling food hall, restaurants, and many interactive experiences, particularly in its toy department. The building also has protected status, meaning any significant alterations cannot happen without approval from the local authority."

Perhaps the biggest change is how Harrods is trying to siphon off some of the Knightsbridge shopper traffic as a way to reduce stress on the original store.  It is opening another store in a Westfield mall several miles away in a far less tony neighborhood, where it will "showcase discounted stock during the iconic British department store’s summer sale in a space that can help cope with Covid-19 social distancing. Rather than uniformed doormen opening taxi doors, there’s a massive, multilevel parking garage and a train station."

Michael Ward, Harrods' managing director, says the mandate is clear:  the retailer must look "at every aspect of its current operations" and think differently "to enable growth, while protecting customers and employees."

Dealing with the implications of the pandemic may be the immediate problem, but the Bloomberg story makes clear that even before the virus started working its way across the globe, British bricks-and-mortar luxury retailing - of which Harrods is the gold standard - already was in trouble.  "Even before the pandemic," the story says, "retailers were struggling with high rents and property taxes and a structural shift in consumer behavior. British shoppers buy more of their goods online than anywhere else in Europe."

Ewan Venters, chief executive officer of Fortnum & Mason, another high-end British food and homewares retailer, explains the challenge this way to Bloomberg:   "Companies will need to 'recalibrate their brains' to determine new operational models," he says.


•  The New York Times this morning reports that "as airlines try to convince Americans to fly again, they have touted their policies for keeping passengers safe, including the requirement that everyone onboard a plane wear a mask.

"But travelers on recent flights said the rules are not being enforced. And flight attendants said they have been told not to confront passengers who opt to not follow them … The patchwork enforcement of policies have left passengers uncomfortable, confused about whether they should be wearing masks or not, and concerned about their safety. They’ve also left flight attendants with the difficult task of trying to make people do something they won’t be punished for if they choose not to comply."

Passengers, the story says, are left with a tough choice - do they confront the other passengers themselves, or sit silently and run the risk of infection?

One MNB reader recently suggested that he planned to bring extra masks with him on flights so he could offer them to recalcitrant passengers, but of course, that won't matter if those passengers refuse to wear them.  The airlines strike me as being largely disingenuous on the issue - they say they'll have conversations with disagreeable passengers and will try to move them to seats where they will be physically distanced, but of course that will be a little tough on planes where most seats are sold.  (And who will want to move into a seat previously occupied by one of these people?)

For the moment, let's assume that we cannot toss these folks off the plane while in mid-air.  

The problem is that there is no federal rule.  I think there ought to be - the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ought to say, for the foreseeable future, that if you are on an airplane, you have to wear a mask.  If you don't like it, drive … walk … or maybe ride a bicycle.  But you don't get to fly.

This is not just a matter of some people being selfish.  (Though it is important to remember that masks protect other people, not the people wearing them.)  This is a matter of public safety and responsible public policy.

•  Engadget reports that the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas "is still scheduled to take place as an in-person event despite COVID-19 having a firm hold over most walks of life. Although many, many other events and conferences have been canceled this year, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) seems confident that CES can take place in January with safety measures in place."

The CTA tells Engadget that it believes that by widening aisles and putting more space between seats at certain events, it can address the physical distancing issues raised by the pandemic.  CTA also says that it will encourage the wearing of masks, but will not commit to requiring them;  likewise, it says that it is looking into the possibility of taking people's temperatures before they enter CES, but has not committed to doing so.

I break out in a pandemic sweat just thinking about how CES is a potential breeding ground for the coronavirus - all by itself, based on how many people attend from so many different places, CES could propel a third wave of the pandemic.  

That said - January is a long time off, and a lot can happen between now and then.  Some of it could be good for events like CES, but some of it could be bad.  They've got to, in the words of the theme song from Mel Brooks' "The Twelve Chairs," hope for the best but expect the worst.