Will the Delta variant keep shoppers and unvaccinated workers at home?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jul 27, 2021

Retailers have been reporting growing streams of customers returning to shop in stores since face masks and social distancing measures were relaxed in recent months as millions of Americans got vaccinated against COVID-19. That boost, however, could be shortlived as the Delta variant has been rapidly spreading across the country with hospitalizations and deaths growing at rates not seen since last year before vaccines were widely available.

A research note released last week by analysts at the Bank of America and reported by several news organizations finds that there is growing concern among consumers about the spread of the virus. While the Delta variant hasn’t resulted in any mass shifts in shopping behavior at this point, consumers could potentially retreat to their homes to reduce potential exposure.

Public health professionals are warning that the current wave augurs more severe consequences going into the fall months. Bank of America found that the seven-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the country grew by 58.4 percent to 28,900 for the week ending July 16. Positive tests are at the highest level in three months and hospitalizations, almost entirely made up of unvaccinated individuals, were up 23.5 percent.

Death totals have also been on the rise but they tend to lag confirmed cases as the infected battle for their lives before succumbing to the virus. More than 99 percent of all recent deaths have been among those who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus.

Bank of America analysts cautioned that it’s likely that local and state governments will place restrictions on activity should cases continue to climb.

The rise in cases may also affect how businesses deal with employees. Instead of bringing workers back to offices, companies may ask them to continue working remotely. Those returning to shared spaces may have to adhere to social distancing safety precautions or even be required to be vaccinated as a term of employment.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How likely is the spread of the Delta variant to put a speed bump in the recovery path for retailers and restaurants over the next several months? How would you counsel retailers to address the challenges that the Delta variant creates for stores and HQ operations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I’d rather see [retailers] waiting to charge than “waiting to see what happens” and then react. Get in front of the battle."
"I do not think this means a return to where we were last March and April; it is a much gentler step back."
"Retailers need to be very concerned about protecting their workers as the Delta variant increases."

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31 Comments on "Will the Delta variant keep shoppers and unvaccinated workers at home?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The evidence is clear: vaccinations work and those that aren’t vaccinated have a better chance than ever to get COVID. While we carry on oblivious to the threat, cases continue to rise. There’s no question that the Delta variant (and no doubt other variants to follow), continue to pose a threat. The very good news is that we have effective vaccines. Retailers need to stay vigilant and continue to err on the side of caution. The health and welfare of their employees and customers are paramount.

Karen Wong
BrainTrust

I can speak for the situation in Canada. We’ve never been able to return to 100% capacity and our overall vaccination rates are such that most people are comfortable returning to in person shopping/dining. If there is a reversal, it will likely be only those who choose to remain unvaccinated. It will be interesting to see how the new laws in France pan out for vaccination acceptance and sustained brick & mortar activity.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Just reading that CDC expects this surge to last till October. Instead of a V case count, looks more like a W. Given how used to online everything we already are, it’s a short leap of faith to say that we’ll fall back on it if the W notion is true. Also read today how there’s a new contagion out there: anger amongst the vaccinated. Business leaders included. I hear that.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Any backward step in the pandemic is concerning and the Delta variant has the potential to interrupt the recovery for retail and hospitality. However, I do not think this means a return to where we were last March and April; it is a much gentler step back. There are several reasons for this. First, vaccination rates are higher and those who are vaccinated tend to get only mild symptoms. Second, the death rate — which is what scares a lot of people — remains relatively low. Third, there are signs from the UK that the Delta variant is peaking well below forecasts and could diminish far more quickly than anticipated. Fourth, regardless of whether it is sensible or not, there are sizable groups of consumers who are over the pandemic and believe life must return to normal. Of course, all of this is up in the air as the pandemic is unpredictable and the worse the deterioration, the more sizable the impact.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe that the Delta variant will have a serious impact on the recovery. This is serious and deadly for the unvaccinated. Those of us who thankfully believe in science and who took the polio and smallpox vaccines prior to the Covid one will potentially get ill and that alone may keep the majority of the country at home. The rest will shop till they drop.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

The new spike in COVID-19 cases is concerning and we could see new mandates on masks coming soon, maybe as early as this week. The good news is that retailers and restaurants are better prepared for dealing with social distancing, masks and omnichannel fulfillment than in the early stages of COVID-19.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Unlike last year, this year, retailers and consumers are well prepared with a plan B for all aspects of their life (e.g. work, shopping, education). God forbid, if the Delta variant were to go out of control, retailers will need to ensure products are well stocked, have even better ways to engage with customers in a much more fun way to drive discovery and trial and have a reliable and cost effective delivery in place.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Well, I was sure this was going to be a bang up holiday season because people feel free to go out and about. Now, I have serious doubts. I do believe this is a speed bump … a BIG one if vaccinations don’t ratchet up.

I can say that retailers, pharmacists and grocers in particular, should reinstate mask mandates for their workers and crack down on customers (and employees) wearing “chin diapers.” I was gob smacked, frankly, to see pharmacists completely unmasked at my local pharmacy. Felt obligated to Twitter shame them.

The challenge for restaurants is even more tricky. Workers already didn’t want to return to those jobs, now … especially down south where it is hot, hot, hot, people don’t want to eat outside so much anymore. So I expect business to decline again.

This is so unfortunate.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Agreed and fully preventable. Do they not remember last year at this time? Ugh.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I suspect that eventually, local leaders will have to make hard choices that will impact retail’s recovery. The Delta variant is a rapidly growing problem, and I fear we will see, as the article suggests, major spikes again in the fall. And with vaccination rates lagging, it’s likely that leaders will likely have to reinstate safety precautions to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed again. As for how retailers can respond? It’s very tricky to institute safety mandates ahead of the government, but in the short term, they can ensure that their associates take as many precautions as possible, including masks, testing protocols, vaccine incentives and sanitation breaks. Restarting senior hours is another easy and non-controversial step to take.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

One simple word — vaccinate. Offer vaccination clinics during work hours. Make it easy for your employees to be vaccinated. Offer incentives if they do, consequences if they don’t. As far as recovery goes I believe that the bump will be a small one. Delta or not, the public has demonstrated that they’re tired of quarantine and ready to get out there.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I’m sorry, how many posts is RW going to do on masks and Covid? This is the third in a week. It’s about shots, not masks. The media has to add fear, I’m not sure more discussions here are helpful.

Matthew Pavich
BrainTrust

It remains to be seen how the Delta variant will impact retail as it continues to spread across the U.S. Without getting political, there are clearly segments of the population and regions that will be more impacted than others. There will also be specific retailers, verticals, brands and items that will be more impacted than others. What will be essential for retailers is the ability to react dynamically as the situation evolves while also having the flexibility to make regional adjustments when national moves aren’t necessary. Having the right analytics and AI can help on this front. In all cases, there won’t be a one size fits all answer to this unique challenge, but the best retailers should weather the storm.

Martin Whitmore
Guest

The effect will really be on the unvaccinated segment of the population. Vaccinated shoppers desperate to get back into stores and diners ready to get back into restaurants will not be deterred. Some of the restrictions of social distancing may be brought back, predominately the mask mandate, but a total shutdown like before is highly unlikely. As more and more businesses make the decision to mandate that their employees be vaccinated there will be an increase in HQ operations and a back to work mentality that evolves.

How about the idea of a one-time, or ongoing, discount for all vaccinated customers much like the Senior Discounts that many retailers and restaurants provide? Let’s try and help get more people vaccinated and keep businesses open.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

New York City and California are requiring employees to get vaccinated or face weekly Covid tests. The Department of Veterans Affairs says front-line healthcare employees will be required to be vaccinated or face possible termination.

The Delta variant is coming on strong and has the potential to negatively effect everything. Too many people are acting like this isn’t a big deal. It is and the fix isn’t hard. Get vaccinated.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

It will have an effect larger than we think. The vast majority of customers not required to wear a mask lately have a level of disgust about having to re-mask, although they will. So now we have a consumer disappointment factor to live with. My counsel to retailers? They all had a great learning field in the last Covid environment. Many learned of alternate means and ways to do business with their customers in those days. My advice: Get out the old game plan book, start your thinking on what you might have to do, or can do, and get ready. I’d rather see you waiting to charge than “waiting to see what happens” and then react. Get in front of the battle.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Obviously, the Delta variant is causing concerns across America. Depending on its continued severity and the possibility of returning to masks for all when indoors, this will slow the return of customers to brick and mortar stores, to the benefit of Amazon and the ilk. I do see the need for employers to restrict access to the work space of unvaccinated associates whether in a store or in an office.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

The puzzling “stall” in US vaccination rates is already having a chilling effect on shoppers that started and were hopeful for a return to “normal.” US retailers should expect continued uplifts in ecommerce trends through the end of the year until anti-vaxers wake up to the reality of a pandemic that is coming up on 2 years. Until these hold-outs wake-up to the reality, we are all still at risk.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

It depends on what the federal response is. If the government and/or state and/or local governments mandate a functional second lockdown — masks everywhere, enforced social distancing, restrictions on service hours and types, etc. — then it could be a killer. But, I think this misses the real danger to retailers. With over half the population still unvaccinated, COVID will continue to mutate. That after all is all viruses do — mutate and replicate. So, the longer it takes to get everyone vaccinated the greater the possibility that a scarier variant will emerge that spreads as fast or faster than Delta and is more lethal than COVID-19 and/or is impervious to the current vaccines, in which case we will have to start all over again. And, in my book, that’s what retailers ought to be worried about.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

One of the attributes of the Delta variant that hardly ever gets discussed is the fact that the Delta variant is weaker than previous variants. The evolution of every virus, including COVID-19, gets more communicative and less strong in each evolution. So as cases expand, the impact of the virus will be less on deaths and serious sickness. So while the variant will be on people’s minds, the impact on consumers should be minimal.

Retailers should continue to tell their customers the extent to which they are making their stores safe. If the consumers feel comfortable with the safety procedures, they are more likely to shop there.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Can you please share the data that says this? Because I have read just the opposite. Stronger, not weaker. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t get shared. It’s not right. Hospitalizations are seriously on the rise here in S Florida.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Paula, see my note. The idea that viruses just get more benign over time is a Right Wing meme, not supported by science. I have listed several examples of viruses that have, in fact, mutated into deadlier strains. It is true that some viruses become more benign and spread faster, but I’m not betting my life on guessing which path COVID will take.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Here is a link to a paper from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) on new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant B.1.1.7. It concludes in the UK, the severity of the Delta variant is no different than the Alpha version. The CDC has not published data yet as it does not have enough collected data on Delta.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

This just isn’t true. Let’s look at the science. Several viruses including varieties of influenza, HIV, and some strains of Hepatitis C, myxoma, and Marek’s, Ebola, norovirus, and others have – in fact – mutated and become deadlier. I know this is a new “meme” but it is wrong and — if believed — could cause people to die.

April Sabral
Guest

After moving from Canada to the US in the midst of the pandemic, I can tell you that retail in Canada is severely affected compared to its US neighbors. I think each country will have its own challenges. The variant, for sure, is causing issues. However, I am not sure if it will disrupt recovery. It seems some retailers have had the best year and some have not, depending on whether you pivoted to meet your consumer demands in online availability or product.

Ultimately, shopping has changed forever, and those retailers that have embraced this will recover and exceed the new norm. Just look at Lululemon, which has been opening stores throughout the entire pandemic and acquired Mirror.