“You would think that there would be enough data and enough history to see that a little more clearly,” he added. “But it also suggests that times are changing and they are changing fast and more dramatically.”

Strong consumer spending may have saved the economy from ruin during the pandemic, but it has also led to enormous excess and waste.

Retailers have begun to slash prices on inventory in their stores and online. Last Monday, Walmart issued the industry’s latest warning when it said that its operating profits would drop sharply this year as it cut prices on an oversupply of general merchandise.

above a reclaimed strip mine dating back to when this region was a major coal producer. Today, the local economy is home to dozens of e-commerce warehouses that cover the hilly landscape like giant spaceships, funneling goods to the population centers in and around New York and Philadelphia.

Liquidity Services, a publicly traded company founded in 1999, decided to open its new facility as close as it could to the Scranton area’s major e-commerce warehouses, making it easy for retailers to dispense with their unwanted and returned items.

Even before the inventory glut appeared this spring, returns had been a major problem for retailers. The huge surge in e-commerce sales during the pandemic — increasing more than 40 percent in 2020 from the previous year — has only added to it.

The National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail calculate that more than 10 percent of returns last year involved fraud, including people wearing clothing and then sending it back or stealing goods from stores and returning them with fake receipts. But more fundamentally, industry analysts say the increasing returns reflect consumer expectations that everything can be taken back.

burned in incinerators that generate electricity.

stock price plummeted nearly 25 percent in one day. Other retailers’ share prices have also fallen.

Target’s stumbles have been an opportunity for people like Walter Crowley.

Mr. Crowley regularly rents a U-Haul and drives back and forth to the liquidation warehouse from his home near Binghamton, N.Y.

Mr. Crowley, who turns 54 next month, focuses mostly on discounted home improvement goods, which he resells to local contractors, like multiple pallets of discontinued garage door openers, tiles and flooring.

But on a sweltering day earlier this month, he stood outside the warehouse in his U-Haul loading up on items from Target.

“I saw its stock got tanked,” said Mr. Crowley, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and sweat pouring down his face. “It’s an ugly situation for them.”

He bought several cribs, a set of sheets for his own house and a pink castle for a girl in his neighborhood who just turned 5.

“I end up giving a lot of it away to my neighbors, to be honest,” he said. “Some people are barely getting by.”

The buyers bid for the goods through online auctions and then drive to the warehouse to pick up their winnings.

It’s a diverse group. There was a science teacher who stocked up on plastic parts for his class, as well as a woman who planned to resell her purchases — neon green Igloo coolers, a table saw, baby pajamas — in the Haitian and Jamaican communities of New York. She ships other items to Trinidad.

The Pennsylvania warehouse, one of eight that Liquidity Service operates around the country, employs about 20 workers, some of whom have been hired on a temporary basis. The starting pay is $17.50 an hour.

Charles Benincasa, 39, is a temporary worker who has had numerous “warehousing” jobs, the most recent at the Chewy pet food distribution center in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

Mr. Benincasa said his friends and family had gotten in the habit of returning many of the goods they buy online. But as he’s watched the boxes pile up in the Liquidity Services warehouse, he worries about the implications for the economy.

“Companies are losing a lot of money,” he said. “There is no free lunch.”

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Retail Workers Increasingly Fear for Their Safety

Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.


There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.

And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.

In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.

F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.

“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.

Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.

“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.

While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.

Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.

it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.

The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.

But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.

“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”

Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.

When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.

“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”

Ella Koeze contributed reporting.

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Despite Labor Shortages, Workers See Few Gains in Economic Security

“Companies are doing all they can not to bake in any gains that are difficult to claw back,” Dr. Schneider said. “Workers’ labor market power is so far not yielding durable dividends.”

The changes that make work lower paying, less stable and generally more precarious date back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the labor market evolved in two key ways. First, companies began pushing more work outside the firm — relying increasingly on contractors, temps and franchisees, a practice known as “fissuring.”

Second, many businesses that continued to employ workers directly began hiring them to part-time positions, rather than full-time roles, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries.

According to the scholars Chris Tilly of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts Boston, the initial impetus for the shift to part-time work was the mass entry of women into the work force, including many who preferred part-time positions so they could be home when children returned from school.

Before long, however, employers saw an advantage in hiring part-timers and deliberately added more. “A light bulb went on one day,” Dr. Tilly said. “‘If we’re expanding part-time schedules, we don’t have to offer benefits, we can offer a lower wage rate.’”

By the late 1980s, employers had begun using scheduling software to forecast customer demand and staffed accordingly. Having a large portion of part-time workers, who could be given more hours when stores got busy and fewer hours when business slowed, helped enable this practice, known as just-in-time scheduling.

But the arrangement subjected workers to fluctuating schedules and unreliable hours, disrupting their personal lives, their sleep, even their children’s brain development.

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For Retail Workers, Omicron’s Impact Isn’t Just About Health

Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.

Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.

A weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.

While data shows that people infected with the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.

“We had gotten to a point here where we were comfortable, it wasn’t too bad, and then all of a sudden this new variant came and everybody got sick,” said Artavia Milliam, who works at H&M in Hudson Yards in Manhattan, which is popular with tourists. “It’s been overwhelming, just having to deal with not having enough staff and then twice as many people in the store.”

said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted Covid-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.

At a Macy’s in Lynnwood, Wash., Liisa Luick, a longtime sales associate in the men’s department, said, “Every day, we have call-outs, and we have a lot of them.” She said the store had already reduced staff to cut costs in 2020. Now, she is often unable to take breaks and has fielded complaints from customers about a lack of sales help and unstaffed registers.

“Morale could not be lower,” said Ms. Luick, who is a steward for the local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Even though Washington has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, “we get a lot of pushback, so morale is even lower because there’s so many people who, there’s no easy way to say this, just don’t believe in masking,” she added.

Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020 — the United Food and Commercial Workers union has tracked more than 200 retail worker deaths since the start of the pandemic — but they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus.

local legislation.

More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.

While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.

The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”

When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.

“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.

Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.

Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.

“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.

As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.

For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.

“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.

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Parents Face Long Waits for Car Seats and Other Baby Items

Almost as soon as Eryn Yates made it through her first trimester of pregnancy last spring, she started shopping for her dream nursery.

But getting the items she wanted turned into a nightmare.

The crib that she had ordered from Crate & Barrel arrived within weeks, but the rocking chair from Pottery Barn Kids was back-ordered for months, and then lost somewhere in transit. The delivery of the dresser she was going to use as her changing table was repeatedly postponed until West Elm informed her that it would be delivered in late April or May 2022 — more than six months after her daughter’s birth.

“I definitely thought that we were ahead of the game since we started ordering everything so early,” said Ms. Yates, 27, who lives in Winter Garden, Fla., and works in health care. “I was wrong.”

Global supply chain disruptions wrought by the pandemic have snarled the delivery of items as varied as medical devices, toys and Grape-Nuts. But perhaps no delays have provoked more familial angst in the last two years than those for baby items.

more than 3.6 million births in the United States in 2020.

The result of the baby-supply upheaval — besides higher prices and an ever-bustling hand-me-down market — has been an injection of new stress and uncertainty into an already emotionally delicate time. Expectant parents are scrambling to get items before they bring their babies home, and retailers and manufacturers are racing to reassure them that their goods will come, and devising hasty solutions if they won’t. Message boards on sites for new parents teem with complaints over back orders and repeated shipment delays. Retailers have become accustomed to soothing anxious parents-to-be.

“These are pregnant women that are all having their babies,” said Lauren Logan, the owner of the Juvenile Shop, a family-run baby retailer in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles. “They are hormonal, but they are pregnant — they want their stuff. I don’t blame them. I want their stuff for them.”

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

On the receiving end are customers who don’t need another source of anxiety. First-time parents often research heavily before selecting strollers, cribs, car seats and other wares. And out-of-stock items can crimp registries; Babylist says new parents often select 100 to 200 items.

After Gina Catallo-Kokoletsos, 33, and her husband finally agreed on a crib from Pottery Barn Kids, her father placed the order as a gift in July. Originally, the crib was supposed to ship in October, giving just enough time before the couple’s baby was due in November. But when Ms. Catallo-Kokoletsos checked in September, she saw that the shipment date had been pushed to January.

“I called them, and they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s going to be delayed.’ And I said, ‘Well, my baby is due before that,’” said Ms. Catallo-Kokoletsos, who lives in Chico, Calif., and works at an animal shelter. She ended up canceling the order and choosing a crib from a small company she had never heard of. That crib arrived on time, but other items on her baby registry, including a rocking chair, went out of stock before she could get them.

“I knew none of it was the end of the world,” she said. “It just kind of gets frustrating after a while.”

Further complicating matters for some expectant parents are deeply ingrained beliefs about buying or receiving items before their babies are born.

Joelle Fox, 35, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Ariz., who is expecting a baby boy in January, said she was wary of ordering anything in part because of a custom among many Jewish people of not having baby things in the house until the baby arrives.

“It’s kind of a tradition that women have done, and I was kind of following that,” she said, adding that she also wanted to research items carefully to make sure they were not harmful. But the supply chain issues compelled her to start buying some items for the nursery at the end of October, a decision that she said prompted “a lot of emotions.”

Even still, she said, the dresser she ordered from Wayfair is not supposed to ship until mid-January. “That has definitely put a bit of a damper on everything, because I can’t get the room completely set up,” she said.

At around 36 weeks pregnant, Ms. Yates in Florida, whose daughter was born in October, gave up on receiving the West Elm dresser and bought one from Ikea. She cut off its legs and replaced them with metal ones that matched the crib she had bought.

She had less luck with her Pottery Barn Kids chair, which she had ordered in June. After it failed to arrive, she felt so desperate that she emailed corporate customer service and copied the chief executive. By the time she was told in October that the chair had been lost, the color and fabric she wanted were no longer available. The company ended up sending her a loaner chair, in a different color, “so I at least had something in the room for me to use.”

Ms. Yates said that she was sympathetic to the companies’ struggles, but that the ordeal still had left her in tears.

“I was not a very emotional pregnant woman — I had a very short temper, rather than being a crier,” she said. “But when it came to the nursery, I cried a lot, because I had this picture of exactly what I wanted, and then it just felt like one thing after another.”

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Robberies, Always an Issue for Retailers, Become More Brazen

The anonymity reflects yet another instance in which criminals stymied by rules in the physical world can operate freely on the internet — an issue that has surfaced in problems involving misinformation, questionable advertisements and merchandise glorifying crimes.

Pawnshops, for example, are regulated in almost every state, said Richard Rossman, a sergeant with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida who is also part of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail.

“If you’re going to sell an item to a pawnshop, the seller has to pledge that property is his or hers, it is not stolen, and the pawnshop documents the item appropriately on a state-regulated form and we can hold the seller accountable and the pawnshop accountable,” Sergeant Rossman said. “There’s no mechanism in place right now that requires the collection of that data on the online marketplaces.”

The coalition has gotten support from industry groups and retailers, including pharmacy chains, Home Depot and Ulta Beauty, on bipartisan legislation known as the INFORM Consumers Act. The bill would require online marketplaces to authenticate the identity of “high-volume third-party sellers,” including their bank account information and tax identification, and allow consumers to see basic identification and contact information for those sellers. The rule would apply to vendors who made 200 or more discrete sales in a year amounting to $5,000 or more.

Etsy, OfferUp and eBay said they supported the legislation after opposing a draft that raised privacy and safety concerns for sellers, especially people selling small-scale items like a couch or people with craft businesses at home. Etsy noted that mass-produced items were not usually allowed on its marketplace, even if they were being sold legitimately. Meta, which owns Facebook Marketplace, and the RealReal, which sells high-end secondhand goods, declined to comment on the legislation.

Meta said that Facebook Marketplace users could report items they thought were stolen and that law enforcement could contact the company regarding suspicious items.

Amazon said in a statement that “we regularly request invoices, purchase orders or other proofs of sourcing when we have concerns about how a seller may have obtained particular products that they want to sell.” It added that it employed 10,000 people working to prevent fraud and abuse on its site, and supported the INFORM Consumers Act.

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Supply-Chain Kinks Force Small Manufacturers to Scramble

“We are not going to assemble iPhones in the U.S.,” Mr. Shih said.

Some experts believe the problems will persist. “Our findings indicate the disruption could be for up to three years,” said Manish Sharma, group chief executive of operations services at the consulting firm Accenture.

Even Two-One-Two New York, a strictly domestic manufacturer of apparel with a plant on Long Island, is being forced to do things differently, said Marisa Fumei-South, the company’s owner and president.

The company has accumulated larger stocks of yarn and other raw materials in response to rising prices and higher shipping costs. “We’re sitting with a lot of inventory,” Ms. Fumei-South said. “We’re waiting to see how this evolves.”

That kind of behavior feeds on itself, Mr. Shih said. As companies buy up supplies to get ahead of rising prices, it contributes to the inflationary dynamic. “People are ordering more than they need, and that’s aggravating shortages,” he said.

American Giant, a maker of hoodies, T-shirts and other clothing, has sidestepped the worst of the supply chain problems because it makes its products in North Carolina and other domestic locations, said its founder and president, Bayard Winthrop.

The company’s apparel, sold through its own stores and online, falls between products sold by retailers like Old Navy or Lands’ End and more expensive brands. A full-zip sweater for men sells for $128, while a woman’s slub turtleneck goes for $70.

But American Giant can’t escape higher labor costs and surging cotton prices, Mr. Winthrop said. While he expects cotton prices to eventually come down, he’s not so sure how long it will take.

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The Holiday Shopping Season Is Here, but Is It Back?

Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with more than 1,800 members, appeared at only a single tree lighting event last year. It was a frightening time, he said, particularly for a group of elderly men who are often overweight and have diabetes.

But this season, Mr. Arnold said that all five of his tree lighting ceremonies are back, including a splashy event that he loves at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Mr. Arnold’s hometown, Memphis. He plans to participate in more than 200 appearances, on par with his prepandemic schedule in 2019. At times, he may perform from inside a life-size snow globe like last year, and a sizable chunk of his events will be held virtually, but it’s a world apart from 2020.

“I think almost all of our Santas intend to work a great deal more than they did last year, and a much higher percentage, probably 65 to 70 percent of us, will return to what we consider some kind of normal schedule,” Mr. Arnold, 71, said. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact.”

This week, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its holiday window display and 10-story-tall light show at its New York flagship store. The retailer, which took a pause from its annual tradition of shutting down Fifth Avenue for a musical performance last year, returned to it this year with a performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and an appearance from Michelle Obama. About 22 Nordstrom stores will have “immersive” photo booths.

At the flagship Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, the store is offering fewer events than the 400-plus it held in 2019, but many more than 2020, when its limited activities were held outdoors. There will be more food and drink for shoppers this season, including Champagne and cups of espresso, though they are being handled more carefully than in years past. The store hosted a performance by Bebe Rexha when it unveiled its holiday windows this month, but kept it to roughly 15 minutes and carefully managed capacity and spacing.

“If you would have talked to me in 2019, we would have had elaborate spreads with caterers coming in and passed hors d’oeuvres and Champagne flowing,” said Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s chief marketing officer. Now, the food is more likely to be prepackaged, and events like cooking demonstrations have been smaller.

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Why Retailers Are Fighting a Vaccine Mandate Before the Holidays

The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers are ringing it in by doing everything from cutting prices to stocking showrooms to lure back customers who stayed at home last year. What the biggest of them are not doing is the one thing the White House and many public health experts have asked them to: mandate that their workers be vaccinated.

As other industries with workers in public-facing roles, like airlines and hospitals, have moved toward requiring vaccines, retailers have dug in their heels, citing concerns about a labor shortage. And a portion of one of the country’s largest work forces will remain unvaccinated, just as shoppers are expected to flock to stores.

At the heart of the retailers’ resistance is a worry about having enough people to work. In a tight labor market, retailers have been offering perks like higher wages and better hours to prospective employees in hopes of having enough people to staff their stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, has estimated that retailers will hire up to 665,000 seasonal workers this year.

held up in litigation, challenged by a number of lawsuits from a broad coalition of opponents, and could make its way to the Supreme Court. Court filings by the administration warn that blocking the rule would “likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”

have increased more than 20 percent over the past two weeks.

“It’s a pretty big ask, there’s no one denying that,” Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said of requiring vaccinations for retail employees. “But we’ve also tried a lot of other things to help people get vaccinated — and I think a mandate right now is what we need to get over that barrier.”

Walmart, the nation’s biggest private employer, declined to comment on the federation’s lawsuit or its plans for vaccinations or testing. A spokeswoman for Target said the company had “started taking the necessary steps to meet the requirements of the new Covid-19 rules for large companies as soon as the details were announced.”

Spokespeople for several retailers on the federation’s board, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Saks, declined to comment for this article.

have not required them for frontline workers, sharing concerns about challenges in hiring. But those workers, including about four million at stores, are among the most vulnerable. They interact frequently with the public and are less likely to be vaccinated themselves. Mandates at Tyson, United Airlines and several health care companies indicate that when faced with the prospect of losing their job, employees most frequently choose inoculation.

“We know vaccine requirements work,” said Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the White House. “The federal government, the country’s largest employer, has successfully implemented its requirement in a way that has boosted vaccinations and avoids any disruptions to operations.”

Still, companies mandating vaccines have faced protests or lawsuits. In some states legislation has been passed to impede it. Disney, for instance, paused a mandate for employees at Disney World in Florida after it became illegal for employers in the state to require workers to get the shot.

The panic and precautions tied to Covid-19 have played out at retail stores throughout the pandemic and ensnared their workers.

Guitar Center and Dillard’s to argue that they needed to stay open — and keep their employees coming in — despite the worsening public health crisis. Workers have been at the forefront of disputes around mask mandates and then mask enforcement. Retail chains like REI have been criticized for failing to inform employees about Covid cases in stores. Grocery store workers were not given priority access to vaccines in many states.

Target and Walmart, throughout the pandemic. And while they are still facing rising prices and supply chain strain, executives have indicated recently that pressure on staffing has waned.

“We feel really good about our staffing going into the holiday season,” Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive, told CNBC last week. He added that the company’s retention numbers were “some of the strongest in our history,” which he attributed to perks and safety measures.

Retailers are betting that consumers will be comfortable shopping in stores, where foot traffic is already higher than in 2020, regardless of the industry’s efforts to fight the new vaccination and testing requirements. And for those who are concerned about the lack of vaccinations, the companies have bolstered their e-commerce operations and curbside pickup offerings in the past year, though in-store shopping often leads to more purchases and fewer returns.

When asked what Macy’s would tell concerned customers about shopping in stores, Mr. Gennette said: “What I would say is we encourage every one of our colleagues to be vaccinated and every colleague wears a mask in our stores and warehouses to protect themselves and others.”

imploring companies to move forward with the Labor Department rules.

“The hope was to provide some perspective for business leaders to remind them this is not a political issue,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who was one of the signatories. Dr. Jha said it was important for companies in all industries to follow the rule, noting that retailers play a particular role, given the nature of their employee base. He said those measures should be put in place during the holiday season — not after — especially as that is when case numbers are expected to rise.

“Do they really want to be superspreader places during the holiday season and be responsible for their employees getting sick and for their employees spreading it to customers?” Dr. Jha said.

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Retail Sales Jumped 1.7 Percent in October

“Everybody believed during 2021 that we’d see a significant shift away from goods back to services as the economic environment opened up as we got our arms around the pandemic,” Craig Menear, Home Depot’s chief executive, told analysts after the company reported its earnings Tuesday. “Clearly, we have not seen that.”

Strong October sales may partly reflect an early start to the holiday shopping season. In mid-September, L.L. Bean added a banner to its website warning customers about holiday shipping delays and shortages and urging early shopping. Best Buy offered its Black Friday deals well before Halloween, from Oct. 19 to Oct. 22. Target started “early Black Friday” deals on Oct. 31.

“I’m sure some folks started looking earlier because of worries that they won’t be able to find the item they’re looking for once everybody gets out to shop,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global.

There are some signs, however, that shortages are beginning to ease, in part because retailers, too, shopped early this year. At the Port of Los Angeles, holiday orders usually begin arriving in late August or early September; this year, they began arriving in June, Gene Seroka, executive director of the port, said at an event on Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Economists warned that if consumers simply got a head start on holiday spending, that could lead to disappointing sales in November and December. But most forecasters expect spending to remain strong because of the improved public health picture and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.

Unemployment has fallen to 4.6 percent, from close to 20 percent at the height of the pandemic, and wages are rising, particularly for low-income workers. Households are sitting on a collective $2.5 trillion in savings built up during the pandemic — and, unlike last Christmas, when the pandemic reduced the appeal of browsing, fitting rooms and lingering indoors, many Americans feel comfortable going out and spending.

Tom Nolan, chief executive of Kendra Scott, a fashion jewelry business with 119 locations, said that its sales were up “materially” over both last year and 2019 and that he expected the performance to continue through the end of the year.

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