By Melissa Fares
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several staffers at major retail chains, including J.C. Penney Co Inc and Saks Fifth Avenue, reported for duty at some Texas-based stores on Friday, selling merchandise “to-go” for orders placed online.
Following Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order, the retailers could open for curbside pick-up for anything from a Gucci handbag to a pair of Levi’s jeans.
For more than a month, “non-essential” stores have been closed to the public to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, and many were limited to shipping online orders to customers’ homes.
On Friday, Texas, the second-largest U.S. retail market after California, along with South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, started to reopen their economies.
“To be able to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel is a huge confidence builder” both for consumers and retails, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry adviser at market research firm NPD Group.
Even with curbside service, chains have sharply curtailed signature department store services. Makeup applications and spa services are unavailable, and personal shoppers cannot interact with clientele in person. They have been using Zoom, Instagram, text and email instead.
Penney, which is exploring filing for bankruptcy protection after the coronavirus pandemic forced the retailer to temporarily shut its 850 department stores, will offer curbside pick-up starting on Friday at certain store locations in Texas, including San Antonio and Dallas.
Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, which also is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection, will allow customers to collect online orders, gift cards and alterations via curbside pick-up at all Neiman and Last Call locations in Texas. Upon arrival, an associate – wearing a mask and gloves – will deliver the product to the customer without making any contact.
Saks Fifth Avenue stylists and personal shoppers on Friday sent messages to Texas-based clients telling them they can schedule appointments to shop online and collect merchandise curbside, or make returns, at two Saks stores, one in San Antonio and one in Houston. The personal shoppers can also advise customers on what purchases to make, though not in person.
“Wall Street is looking closely at how the ‘non-essential’ stores reopen,” said Randy Hare, portfolio manager at Huntington Private Bank. “We will be in a new environment post-quarantine and different companies have an opportunity to become leaders.”
Many retailers were offering curbside pick-up before the coronavirus pandemic to drive sales, and some states have allowed non-essential businesses to operate curbside in recent days.
Macy’s Inc started testing curbside services this week at three locations in California, Florida and Texas, a company spokeswoman said.
As they return to doing in-store business, the retailers might take a lesson from others overseas.
In Germany, where stores are gradually reopening to shoppers country-wide, Swedish furniture chain Ikea counts people as they enter and exit to make sure there are no more than 640 shoppers at one time. It has put up protection screens for staff offering assistance and closed its childcare and restaurant areas.
Staff are not required to wear face masks but can if they want. Signs on the floor ask shoppers to maintain a 1.5 metre (4.9 ft) distance from each other.
At H&M stores that have reopened in Germany, customers are reminded with announcements, signage and floor stickers about social distancing rules. Plexiglass shields separate cash-desk areas, and the retailer is following the ruling of several German states regarding the compulsory wearing of protective masks for all employees.
(Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson in Berlin; Editing by Dan Grebler)