Omicron threatens to mess retail up
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is now, according to several accounts, the fastest spreading virus in history with over one million cases reported yesterday in the U.S.
News of the virus’s progress is creating a new wave of disruption in retail operations as workers, already in short supply in many businesses, are forced to stay home after testing positive. Consumers, themselves hit with the variant or seeking to avoid getting it, are turning to online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup in greater numbers.
The good news is that retailers are relatively well prepared to deal with this moment after nearly two years of practice responding to the ebbs and flows of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The bad news is that complicating factors, such as a lack of personnel and people dismissive of the public health threat, make it more difficult for businesses to address the current challenge and are potentially creating a scenario that may prolong the pandemic.
Retailers have responded in a variety of ways to the rise in cases.
Apple has closed some of its locations to customers and others, including Walmart, have shut stores temporarily.
Other retailers have been forced to add hours and pay overtime to keep up with demand as they find themselves short-staffed in the face of rising cases. Some have limited store hours as their personnel and systems are stressed by demand and rapid shifts in shopping behavior created as a byproduct of the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Face mask rules and social distancing have largely been left up to customers. In some parts of the country, shoppers tend to wear masks in stores but, in many locales, stores are packed with unmasked customers who remain unconcerned about getting or spreading COVID-19.
The province of Quebec, this past Sunday, began requiring businesses designated as non-essential retail to close for the day. This was the first of three planned closure days. Pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations are allowed to remain open.
Retailers objected to the action.
“The last thing businesses need during these difficult times is additional restrictions,” Charles Milliard, president of the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce, said in a statement. “We must leave the choice to businesses to open or close at the time that makes the most sense for them, their employees and their customers.”
- Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count – The New York Times
- U.S. reports over 1 million new daily Covid cases as omicron surges – CNBC
- Omicron might be less dangerous, but it’s twisting the nation in knots – CNN
- Walmart temporarily shut nearly 60 U.S. stores for COVID cleaning in December – Reuters
- The Omicron variant surge has thrown a wrench in retail’s recovery – Glossy
- Quebec begins retail store closures amid new COVID-19 wave – NPR
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How well do you think retailers are responding to the current operational challenges created by the spike in Omicron cases around the country? Do retailers have a responsibility to do more to try to curtail the spread of the virus in its current form?