Can retail move more quickly than Omicron?

Discussion
Sources: “Dance with All Your Heart” – Kohl’s; “Tiptoe and the Flying Machine” – Macy’s
Nov 30, 2021

The Omicron virus is here and is probably more widespread than currently known. Beyond that there isn’t a lot known about the latest variant of COVID-19 other than by vaccine makers. At least one company producing a therapeutic antibody treatment has told The Wall Street Journal, though, that the new variant is more resistant to treatment than the current variant, Delta, that is behind a recent spike in cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.

President Joe Biden, speaking yesterday after a meeting with retailers about the holiday shopping season and supply chain challenges, said, “The new variant is cause for concern, but not a cause for panic.” He urged unvaccinated Americans to get fully vaccinated and those that have been vaccinated to get booster shots.

Mr. Biden said that he would release “a detailed strategy” for dealing with the new variant by Thursday. The new plan, he said, would not involve “shutdowns or lockdowns” but would feature known ways to combat the virus from both a public health and individual perspective.

The federal government is limited in what it can require of individual citizens when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19; state and local governments have more sway. New York City has issued a health advisory recommending that residents of its five boroughs wear masks indoors and in public settings, reports The Gothamist. With this falling short of a mask mandate, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, is urging residents to get vaccinated as the key line of defense against the virus.

Omicron cases have been identified outside of the U.S. including nine cases in Scotland. The government has begun bringing back mask mandates for mass transit and other activities. Retailers have expressed concern about having to play mask police once again.

“We know from previous lockdowns that reminding people about face coverings and social distancing is a big trigger for abuse and [store workers] are hesitant about challenging people,” Chris Noice, a spokesperson for the Association of Convenience Stores, told The Guardian.

Businesses in the U.S. also have substantial concerns about abuse of workers. Frontline workers fear for their safety when confronted by unruly customers trying to make political statements about masks and vaccines as well as large groups of thieves engaged in organized, sometimes violent, crime in stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see signs that the Omicron variant has begun to affect consumer shopping behavior in the U.S.? What can retailers do now to make sure they are ready for what comes from this possible new threat?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The pandemic has changed the way we shop and a digital-first strategy is still the right strategy, no matter what this virus has in store for us."
"I doubt that the Omicron variant has changed any consumer shopping behaviors yet, as there haven’t been any reported cases of Omicron in the U.S."
"I believe that the majority of people are learning to manage the risk. I’m not sure there’s much retailers can do other than to be vigilant..."

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12 Comments on "Can retail move more quickly than Omicron?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The response will be mixed. The new variant may deter some people from in-person shopping and make them more cautious. However, many others will simply ignore it and carry on, managing risks as best they can. However, until we know more and see the impact of the variant in terms of cases and hospital admissions, it is far too early to understand what may happen. President Biden is right that there is no need for panic. Wise retailers, however, will be prepared with plans to cope with any shifts in the virus and in consumer behavior.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

With all the media attention, there’s no doubt that some shoppers are more concerned, but I believe that the majority of people are learning to manage the risk. I’m not sure there’s much retailers can do other than to be vigilant in monitoring market conditions and be flexible, making adjustments as conditions dictate. Omicron is only the latest variant of what will no doubt be a endless stream of new ones that come after. I think Biden is spot on — it’s a concern, not a crisis.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Retailers need to continue to put safety first if they want stores to be part of the customer journey, but they can’t lose focus of enabling technology to get closer and faster to their customers.

The fact is that the pandemic has changed the way we shop and a digital-first strategy is still the right strategy, no matter what this virus has in store for us.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Lately, I’ve not seen many signs that shoppers are concerned about any versions of the virus and that is troubling. In most stores that I’ve visited, mask use is dwindling or non-existent. I’m not sure if this is due to COVID fatigue, a false sense of security from boosters, or some combination of factors. Either way, it will be much more difficult to attempt to ramp up mask usage and other precautions from this position.

The good news is that retailers, by and large, have tried to do the right thing and have taken the lead in the past. Unfortunately, front-line workers will bear the brunt when it comes to enforcement backlash.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

I doubt that the Omicron variant has changed any consumer shopping behaviors yet, as there haven’t been any reported cases of Omicron in the U.S. It sounds like Biden and other government authorities are cautious about over mandating masks and vaccines, but if this variant becomes worse than previous variants, retail will be impacted by new recommendations or mandates. The good thing is that we have been there before and retailers now have experience with social distancing measures.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

Unlike the financial markets, the consumer has become desensitized to COVID news, including any new variants. Omicron is more likely to generate a higher vaccination rate or faster uptake on booster shots, but it will have minimal impact on shopping behavior through the holiday period. Retailers need not panic; just refresh their safety protocols from 2020 and early 2021, if needed.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I think we are bordering on COVID fatigue. In general, the pubic got their shots and were promised (for the most part) that they would be protected. Now it’s recommended that everyone get the booster shot and there is recommendation that people should take the booster shots for the different variants as they come up.
Right or wrong, it confuses the general public to where they just ignore any information concerning COVID.

Retailers are still cleaning, recommending social distancing and suggesting masks if you are not vaccinated, but they are still the front line when dealing with unruly customers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
We’ve seen this movie before and it always has the same, unsatisfying, ending. Those shoppers who take the pandemic seriously will be more cautious in the face of Omicron. But they are also more likely to go out and get a booster vaccine, wear masks, etc. and may therefore be more confident about going out to shop. Those who never received the first round of vaccines and believe that Bill Gates is trying to inject chips into everyone so he can personally track them for Hillary Clinton (or whatever) aren’t going to be impacted at all — other than getting sick and/or dying. So — on balance — what you see today is what you are likely going to get this Holiday season unless Omnicron, or some emerging “escape variant” proves vaccine resistant. As to what retailers can do now, the answer is nothing, really. President Biden has announced he will have a more complete response to Omicron by this Thursday. With all due respect to the White House, a couple of days isn’t likely… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’m with Neil. Consumers are used to amending their behavior because of the virus, but they won’t stop shopping. Many retailers are a lot more agile than they used to be, and will revisit the protocols they’ve put in place.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Psychologically it will cause some people to go back to isolation mode, but most I think will have enough experience to navigate the risk of in person shopping. I think the key will be availability of products more than anything … people are learning to live with COVID long term and will make rational decisions.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Omicron is definitely a cause of concern for consumers as well as retailers. Lockdown is no solution as new variants keep emerging. People are evolving with changing times and learning to live in a different world post COVID.

Retailers should recognize this fact and prepare their business and employees to operate smoothly in the face of unpredictable COVID cases. This can come in the form of policies like reminding customers to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

As consumers become more accepting of COVID restrictions, I believe stores will no longer be obliged to become mask police. Customers who refuse to wear masks should be gently asked to leave.

They may lose some customers, but retailers will deepen their relationship with most of their customers And that’s what matters!

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Retailers must stick to their plan. Surely they are going to be a bit nervous in a wait-and-see environment, but retailers have no choice but to stay on plan and be ready.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The pandemic has changed the way we shop and a digital-first strategy is still the right strategy, no matter what this virus has in store for us."
"I doubt that the Omicron variant has changed any consumer shopping behaviors yet, as there haven’t been any reported cases of Omicron in the U.S."
"I believe that the majority of people are learning to manage the risk. I’m not sure there’s much retailers can do other than to be vigilant..."

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