Business as Usual

Has COVID-19 changed the way Americans shop?


photo by Evelyn Wiethorn

Ross Park Mall appearing rather deserted for a Saturday afternoon.

Evelyn Wiethorn, Staff

On March 11, 2020, the US declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This nationwide lockdown caused a decline in consumer spending, due to the loss of 20.6 million jobs. Of these, over half remain unemployed today. Across the nation, business owners panicked, trying to find ways to keep their businesses afloat.

Many businesses tried to maintain sales levels by switching to an online shopping platform. However, the success of online shopping varied greatly according to the industry. Local bars and restaurants have been hit the hardest by the pandemic; 129 in the Pittsburgh area have closed permanently. 

When asked how the pandemic has affected business, Greg Wadlow, the owner of Monte Cellos in Wexford, shared his experiences

“The restaurant sales have dipped for sure because the dining room is closed,” Wadlow said. “Luckily though our delivery and take out has always been a big part of our overall sales so that has been getting us by. Given the circumstances it’s going pretty well and could definitely be worse. I just feel bad for any restaurant that didn’t have a strong take out or delivery business pre -COVID… that would be very hard to survive without being well established.”

Many local businesses have suffered due to their failure to switch to an online platform. Large businesses that have successfully transitioned are more likely to have survived, but the transition to online shopping has changed the nature of the industry. Clothing brand American Eagle plans to close stores nationwide due to these changes. Chief Financial Officer, Mike Mathias, stated that the company plans to close between 40 and 50 stores in the coming years. This is mainly due to the now 70% of total sales being completed online. 

Amazon, the US’s largest online retailer, also saw growth during the pandemic as it tripled its sales with revenues $96.15 billion greater than analysts expected. 

Retailers have noticed the spike in online sales and are now focusing more on directly targeting those buyers by promoting their business on apps such as Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat. Digital advertising has grown over the past years to be one of the most important forms of advertising, with businesses spending nearly 356 dollars on online advertising in 2020 alone. 

“I shop a lot more than I did before quarantine because normally   I would have to go to an actual store,” said junior Carolyn Mole. “Now, I shop online for everything because it’s more convenient. I find myself shopping online at least once a week.” 

However, a strong online platform has not saved all large corporations. Already suffering retailers such as JCPenney, J Crew, and Francesca’s were hit hard by the pandemic causing them to file for bankruptcy in 2020.

Although the convenience of online shopping is appealing to many, the social aspect of shopping has been lost. 

 “I think I kind of always liked being able to go out shopping, especially with friends, but with corona and everything closing I definitely have shopped online way more,” said junior Megan Quinlan. 

With Americans avoiding large crowds due to COVID-19, malls and other stores have looked rather deserted. On the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, photos of eerily empty stores circled the internet as consumers turn to online shopping to find deals. 

A Macy’s Herald Square in New York, usually bustling with customers on Black Friday, is barren with people. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

We are cautiously optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic will end soon and the inconveniences we are all experiencing will soon be a memory. However, for many retailers and businesses, the changes caused by the pandemic will not so easily be forgotten.