Business & Economy

US retail sales plunge due to shutdowns; Best Buy to furlough 51,000 workers

Washington, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Retail sales in the United States plunged by a record 8.7 percent in March compared to the previous month, as states ordered the closure of clothing stores, restaurants and other non-essential businesses in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the US Census Bureau said Wednesday.

One of the retail establishments affected by the Covid-19 pandemic has been Richfield, Minnesota-based Best Buy Co., Inc., which announced Wednesday that it will furlough 51,000 workers.

The Census Bureau said in its latest monthly report that retail and food services sales are estimated to have come in at $483.1 billion last month, down 8.7 percent from February and 6.2 percent lower than in March 2019.

That Commerce Department unit noted that “many businesses are operating on a limited capacity or have ceased operations completely” in the US, which has registered more than 600,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 27,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

Numerous categories of retail businesses suffered double-digit declines in sales in March, although food and beverage stores (including supermarkets) saw their sales climb 25.6 percent from February and 28 percent from March 2019.

The biggest drops in monthly retail sales were experienced by clothing and clothing accessories stores (down 50.5 percent from February), furniture and home furnishing stores (down 26.8 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (down 25.6 percent) and bars and restaurants (down 26.5 percent).

But despite the big drop in retail spending last month, first-quarter retail sales (January to March) were up 1.1 percent from the same period of 2019.

Separately, US big-box electronics and technology retail giant Best Buy said in a press release Wednesday that due to pandemic-related disruptions to its business it will need to temporarily furlough around 51,000 domestic hourly store employees – including nearly all part-time employees – starting Sunday.

The company said those furloughed employees will continue to receive health benefits – at no cost to them – for a minimum of three months.

Best Buy noted in the release, however, that it had successfully implemented a strategy that involved shifting its stores to a “temporary enhanced curbside service-only model starting March 25,” adding that that move enabled it to retain a sizable portion of its sales.

“We have retained approximately 70 percent of our sales compared to last year since moving to our enhanced curbside service model despite the fact that all our domestic stores are closed to customer traffic and approximately 40 of them, particularly in the Northeast, have been completely closed to all business for at least 10 days at our discretion,” CEO Corie Barry, who is forgoing 50 percent of her base salary through at least Sept. 1, said.

Best Buy also said in the release that it is retaining around 82 percent of its full-time store and field employees on its payroll. EFE-EPA

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