Empty shelves. Half-empty racks. Uncluttered aisles. Shuttered stores and malls. What’s happened to shopping?
You might not have noticed if you’re one of the millions buying clothing on line, having groceries delivered, and getting essentials via FedEx, UPS and Prime. But if you’ve been shopping as usual, you surely have noted changes. Stores are far emptier than usual. Not only shoppers are missing, but there’s much less available to purchase.
Even in outlets like Walmart and Target, you see bare shelves, sparse clothing racks, and plenty of space to walk, even though you probably aren’t allowed to try on anything. Instead of storage boxes, tablecloths, and toys piled high on shelves, they’re now spread out one by one to take up more space. And garments are spread across racks because there are so few of them to display. There’s almost no new fashion to dress up your fall season.
It’s not only toilet paper and Lysol Wipes, still in short supply, that have grocery shoppers concerned. There’s been a run on flour, pasta products and other ingredients to flavor the comfort foods people have been experimenting with at home. Even the frozen food section is half empty because items such as seafood couldn’t get here from China and other Pacific countries.
On the other hand, grocers are thrilled because volume and profits are rising with pick-up and delivery orders.
But have you noticed it’s past Labor Day and stores aren’t bursting with Halloween decorations yet? They simply aren’t available. Makes you wonder what Christmas will look like.
Covid caused disruptions of global supply chains and greatly impacted the shipping market. More than 90 percent of world trade is seaborne, and China is home to seven of the ten busiest container ports. The closure of the China manufacturing hub limited demand for seaborne transport and kept goods out of US ports.
The shipping industry produced a report last week showing that container shipping is beginning to return to normal, but all that means is the stuff currently sitting on piers and in warehouses will now be loaded on ships and sent to original destinations. Whether or not it’ll be welcome is another question.
It’s an especially serious question for clothing manufacturers.
They couldn’t get their summer and early fall lines delivered before the pandemic hit, and no one is going to want those fabrics and designs in stores now with winter looming ahead. Retailers won’t accept the too-late deliveries, and storing all those items in hopes buyers will want them in six months is pretty darn risky. They fear that giving them to thrift shops or donating them to charity will impair their prestige, but they can’t afford to simply toss them out.
And there won’t be many seasonable new items arriving in stores because factories haven’t yet returned to business as usual. Many designers weren’t able to maintain stocks with few sales and even some top high-end designers have no plans for new autumn lines.
Facebook and other websites are full of ads from lesser well-known designers saying they’re selling off their inventory and not planning new lines.
America’s clothing choices have changed, too, and may never return to what we thought was normal last year. People comfortable working from home aren’t looking forward to donning neckties and pantyhose when they go back to regular workplaces. Sneakers replaced stilettos, sweaters replaced jackets, and bulky tote bags replaced sleek leather handbags.
The luxury clothing industry was almost demolished because people have no fancy parties to dress up for. No satin, velvet, cocktails or canapes.
We look messy but we eat healthier.
A former assemblywoman from Jersey City, Joan Quigley is the president and CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp.
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