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Coronavirus Freezes Retail Footfall Recovery, Spurs Digital Sales

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Per ShopperTrak’s latest data, retail foot traffic in the United States tanked 39.5% in the week ending Jul 4 and 35.7% for the week concluding on Jun 27 from the previous year’s figures.

Retail foot traffic was rebounding from the all-time low of 82.6% during the week ending Apr 18 with the drop easing to just 34% for the week ending Jun 20 from the prior-year reading. However, the metric’s recovery has stalled over the past couple of weeks as COVID-19 cases surged across the nation, especially in hot-spot states like Florida and Texas. Shoppers are once again retreating from venturing out for purchases, forcing retailers like Apple Inc. (AAPL - Free Report) to close down several reopened stores.

However, not all states are witnessing a dip in retail foot traffic. Going by ShopperTrak’s report, 13 states including New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York continued to experience an improved footfall over the past two weeks from the same-period level a year ago. Meanwhile, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama recorded the worst downtrend. 

Brian Field, senior director, ShopperTrak reckons the safety measures implemented in each of the states to induce the disparity in interstate retail foot traffic figures. Of the 13 states with rising traffic, 11 require general public to wear masks while of the 38 states registering a declined footfall, only eight will to follow the mask-wearing mandate.

If consumers persistently shy away from re-opened stores, it will be a setback for the bricks-and-mortar store retail gains achieved so far. This, in turn, will further boost digital sales. Troubled retail giant Brooks Brothers is the latest to jump on the bandwagon with other players like J.C. Penney (JCPNQ - Free Report) and J. Crewand Neiman Marcus in pandemic-hastened bankruptcy cases.

CFRA Research, one of the world's largest independent investment research firms, is pencilling in a W-shaped retail recovery in the United States with an 8% decrease in retail sales projected for 2020 and a 3% increase for 2021. In the U-shaped turnaround scenario, the firm forecasts retail sales to fall 6% in 2020 and rise 4% in 2021. The less probable V-shaped revival is expected to witness a 4% slip and a 5% uptick in 2020 and 2021 retail sales, respectively.  

Simply put, physical store sales are witnessing a sharp descent with the near-term outlook for such operators looking bleak. As consumers are increasingly preferring digital purchases, e-commerce sales are shooting up across multiple categories and formats.

Best Bets

Given the present scenario, e-commerce appears to be the next big thing in retail. Retailers with a strong online base are likely to emerge as winners amid this unprecedented mess. That said, we zeroed in on five healthy stocksfor a rewarding investment portfolio. Each stock currently has a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) or 2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

eBay Inc.(EBAY - Free Report) operates as an online shopping site that allows visitors to browse the products listed for sale or auction through each company's online storefront. The company has a trailing four-quarter positive earnings surprise of 6.20%, on average and a Zacks Rank of 1, presently. 

Etsy, Inc.(ETSY - Free Report) offers e-commerce services and provides both online and offline marketplaces to buy and sell goods. The company's product line comprises art, home and living, mobile accessories, jewellery, wedding merchandise, et al. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings has seen three upward revisions in the past 60 days. It is presently a #1 Ranked player. 

Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc.(SFM - Free Report) operates in a highly fragmented grocery store industry with focus on product innovation and on e-commerce, expansion of private label assortment and enhancement of technology. The company has a trailing four-quarter positive earnings surprise of 37.17%, on average. It is a Zacks #1 Ranked player at present.

Wayfair Inc.(W - Free Report) , domiciled in Boston, MA, is one of the world's leading online sellers of home products, consisting of furniture and home decor. It operates worldwide through and four other branded websites, namely Joss & Main, AllModern, Birch Lane and Perigold. In the past 60 days, three estimates for current-year earnings have moved north for Wayfair. The company currently carries a Zacks Rank #2. 

Headquartered in Seattle, WA, Amazon (AMZN - Free Report) is one of the largest e-commerce providers in the world. The company is benefiting from its Prime program, delivery and logistic system in the e-commerce space. Further, its dominant position in the cloud market is a boon. The company has a trailing four-quarter positive earnings surprise of 8.71%, on average. It is presently a #2 Ranked player. 


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