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RetailDive.com, Daphne Howland

As the COVID-19 era has vividly demonstrated, closing stores has, at best, a chilling effect on shopping.

In April — a month when, unlike March or May, most if not all nonessential retailers closed down — retail sales as measured by the U.S. Commerce Department and tracked by Retail Dive plummeted 16%. Some segments fared quite a bit worse than that. Apparel sales plunged 89%, for example, while furniture and home sales fell 67%; electronics sales fell 65% and sporting goods and hobby sales fell 46%. General merchants, which in some cases were permitted to stay open thanks to sales of essential items, saw sales fall 14%, according to the government’s monthly report.

Although e-commerce’s ability to fill in for closed stores has been surprisingly flawed, those sales rose 28%, and captured 19% of overall retail sales, up from 12% on average the past two years, according to Wells Fargo Economics Group, led by Senior Economist Tim Quinlan. Credit for that goes to retailers with already nimble e-commerce operations and the expansion of omnichannel services like curbside pickup.

As important as stores clearly are in drumming up sales and marketing to customers, there are signs that quite a few will be left shuttered even as the restrictions brought on by the pandemic continue to loosen. Those that remain must have a clear raison d’être, analysts say.

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