You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Skip to main content

Should Retail Store Workers Move to the Front of the Vaccination Line?

One of the nation’s top retail trade bodies is calling for officials to prioritize vaccinating front-line store workers against the coronavirus as last month’s sales numbers roll in.

The pull-forward of the 2020 holiday season appears to have given November the head start on seasonal sales that was anticipated. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that retail sales in the month grew 8.8 percent year over year, while the U.S. Census Bureau said that retail sales were up 4.1 percent.

On a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis, NRF reported that retail sales dropped 0.3 percent, while the Census Bureau said the dip was a wider 1.1 percent.

“The month-over-month decline isn’t surprising because some spending was pulled forward into October by campaigns encouraging consumers to shop early and shop safe,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Despite that, as we go into the final weeks of 2020, year-over-year trends show spending is holding up well regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Nonetheless, we have to remember the remainder of the holiday season depends critically on the virus. We are optimistic, but spending could shift into a lower gear if the virus continues to spread.”

It is important to note that unlike the Census Bureau, the NRF calculation of retail sales excludes automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants to focus on core retail. NRF’s numbers were up 10.8 percent unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average.

Related Stories

Unfortunately, the apparel industry was not a beneficiary of the November bump. In fact, of the nine key retail categories analyzed by NRF, brick-and-mortar clothing and accessories stores performed the worst at a 19.2 percent year-over-year decline and a 6.8 month-over-month seasonally adjusted dip. General merchandise stores were down 1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted, but up 1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Online and other “non-store” sales, defined in its own category, predictably performed the best at a 30 percent year-over-year increase and a 0.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted increase.

A December survey from Score cosigns the apparel industry’s overall malaise and the continued overperformance online, noting that while apparel is expected to see a 48 percent year-over-year increase in December e-commerce sales, this is actually the second-worst performing segment, only ahead of fitness and wellness products (46 percent).

For context, online purchases for skincare and makeup are expected to grow by 97 percent, accessories are expected to grow by 96 percent, while household supplies are seen growing by 81 percent.

Score, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) with more than 10,000 volunteer mentors, indicated that 73 percent of consumers reported trying a new shopping behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 22 percent saying they took a chance on a digital method for the first time. Eighty-one percent of those new digital-savvy shoppers intend to continue those habits.

Additionally, while 33 percent of consumers have tried a different brand, of which 79 percent intend to continue, 29 percent of consumers have used a different retailer, store or website, with 75 percent of them sticking with their new path.

Despite how shopping habits have evolved this year, retail sales have increased each month since May on a year-over-year basis under NRF’s calculation, while they have increased every month since June per the Census Bureau. Retail sales during the first 11 months of the year were up 6.6 percent, NRF said.

Monthly sales numbers can fluctuate even when adjusted for seasonal variations, making year-over-year comparisons a better indication of long-term trends, according to NRF.

In November, NRF forecast that holiday sales would increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. While NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, the organization cited its own research in showing 42 percent of consumers started holiday shopping sooner than usual.

NRF calls on CDC to prioritize vaccines for retail workers

As retail struggles through the holiday season, NRF is also calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to include the retail workforce among those gaining access to Covid-19 vaccines during the early stages of distribution.

“Retailers have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic protecting associates, serving customers and keeping the communities in which they live and work safe and healthy,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF, in a statement. “The industry invested billions of dollars to provide protective gear and trainings for their associates and to make the necessary changes to achieve and exceed health and safety recommendations made in municipal, state and federal guidelines.”

The retail industry directly employs 32 million people in the U.S., and supports 52 million working Americans, according to NRF.

In a letter submitted to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the CDC, Shay pointed out that many workers who were furloughed early in the pandemic only recently were able to resume their careers before the latest shutdown orders in select areas of the U.S. took effect. Alongside employees at retail stores and distribution centers, Shay lumped in employees at quick service, fast casual and family dining restaurants as workers who should be prioritized in the first wave of vaccinations.

Retailers, Shay said, can aid the CDC and state public health professionals in safely distributing the vaccine. For example, retail supply chains and vast physical store networks can facilitate community vaccination efforts. He also noted that retailers can share information on where to learn more about the importance of the vaccines with their customers.

“When the time comes, retailers can help keep healthy individuals approved to receive the vaccine away from hospitals, medical centers and clinics by hosting vaccination centers on store property,” Shay said. “Distribution of vaccines on retail premises—whether in stores, in parking lots or at distribution centers—will keep members of the public from gathering in great numbers at any one location. These efforts can also facilitate the vaccination of greater numbers of the retail workforce. Moreover, strong acceptance of vaccinations by the diverse retail workforce can assist in positive behavioral modeling for the entire society.”