As the novel coronavirus forced stores closures across America, clothing retailers are hoping their online shops can carry them through an economic downturn
By guest author Jacob Gallagher from Wall Street Journal
IT WAS JUST five months ago that Adsum, a five-year-old Brooklyn clothing label, opened up a shop in the borough’s bustling Williamsburg neighborhood. Yet as of Monday, March 16, the store has been closed. Shutting down is “going to be crushing,” said co-founder Pete Macnee in an interview a day after he and his partners made the decision to close its physical storefront. For now, Adsum’s efforts are focused on its online store, drumming up sales through blog entries and social media missives. “I’m hoping that we can continue to trudge through,” said Mr. Macnee.The disruptive reality of the coronavirus has catalyzed an unprecedented wave of retail store closures around the country, following similar closures throughout China and then Europe. As more states shutter “non-essential” business, companies like Nordstrom, Nike, Macy’s, Patagonia, Ralph Lauren, Apple, Calvin Klein, J. Crew, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Saint Laurent have closed their physical locations. For now, like Adsum, most companies are hoping ecommerce can carry them through this turbulent time, and in some cases are sweetening the pot with discount codes or by offering free shipping.
The disruptive reality of the coronavirus has catalyzed an unprecedented wave of retail store closures around the country, following similar closures throughout China and then Europe. As more states shutter “non-essential” business, companies like Nordstrom, Nike, Macy’s, Patagonia, Ralph Lauren, Apple, Calvin Klein, J. Crew, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Saint Laurent have closed their physical locations. For now, like Adsum, most companies are hoping ecommerce can carry them through this turbulent time, and in some cases are sweetening the pot with discount codes or by offering free shipping.With more people cooped up at home, idle hands have led to spontaneous online shopping. (Many experts maintain that there is a low risk of catching the virus from receiving deliveries at one’s home.) “I find myself shopping more, looking at clothes more, and that’s mainly due to the downtime. I wouldn’t normally have this much time,” said Eric Gehman, 25, who works in risk reporting at a bank in Elkton, Md. and is now working remotely. Last month Mr. Gehman purchased a pair of high-end jeans by Parisian label Jacquemus and a hoodie from a store in Los Angeles. They’re optimistic buys: Mr. Gehman hopes to wear the jeans on a future vacation, but his early burst of online shopping might fizzle, considering his current isolation wardrobe. “For the most part, I’m wearing sweatpants or shorts at home.”
For small businesses that lack a cash-reserve cushion, having a sales slowdown of even two weeks could be crippling. Some companies, including New York’s Noah, Standard & Strange in Oakland and Union in Los Angeles, have posted lengthy Instagram appeals about why it’s critical to support a small business in these economically precarious times.
Stores and brands have also offered direct incentives to boost online interest. Dover Street Market in New York City, Departamento in Los Angeles and End Clothing in England have waived shipping fees. “We’re going to ramp up our messaging to promote shopping online as best we can,” explained Andrew Dryden, co-owner of Departamento. Much of the store’s business is in-store, but last month it closed following California’s statewide “shelter in place” order. Mr. Dryden is hoping to keep online sales steady and so far, they have: when we spoke on Monday March 16, he was busy packing up 15 online orders.
Other companies have gone further than free shipping: Adidas’s website has discounted at 30% sitewide, Need Supply, a Richmond, Va.-based retailer with a sizable online presence, trotted out a 25% discount, while two Chicago shops, Notre and Independence are offering 20 % and 15 % off respectively. Unlike many other companies, Independence’s business is traditionally 85 % brick and mortar and just 15% online. Owner George Vlagos explained that the coupon code is meant to balance out that split now that its physical shop closed. “Offering the 15 % off coupon, we went back and forth on that,” said Mr. Vlagos. “You don’t want to make light of the situation and act like nothing is going on, but at the same time, we are trying to make a living just as everyone is.”
There’s a limit to how much control a store or brand can exert over its economic situation right now. For starters, with more manufacturers also being temporarily shut-down, clothing brands are facing complications throughout their supply chains. On the day we spoke, Mr. Macnee had been told that Adsum’s United States-based hat manufacturer was closing indefinitely. Retailers also expressed fears that shipping companies may go on hiatus. If that happens, said Departamento’s Mr. Dryden, “we’re not able to get any orders out, and at that point we’ll just close.”
The biggest unknown may be how many consumers are willing to spend money on clothing—a relative nonessential—as Covid-19 continues to put people out of work. Before the virus arrived, Hunter Pauli, 28, a freelance journalist and camera operator for sporting events who lives in Missoula, Mont. had his eye on new Hoka One One sneakers and a pair of boots. After losing job opportunities when sports leagues cancelled their seasons, Mr. Pauli decided to push those purchases off. “I don’t know if I’m going to need that money,” he said. For right now, it’s a risk he’s not willing to take.