Major apparel chains and malls, which were hit especially hard by the closures, have also been aggressively pushing to reopen as quickly as legally possible to recoup some of their losses.
Some retailers have reported that their efforts are paying off. Kohl’s said last month that its reopened stores were about 50 percent to 60 percent as productive as they would typically be. Gap, which owns Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta, said this month that its reopened stores in North America were generating sales at nearly 70 percent of their performance last year.
“There is some indication there is normal behavior out there,” said Jay Sole, a retail analyst at UBS, “where people want to go back to normal, they want to go have fun, get out of the house, and they’re buying the apparel they need to do that.”
But at the same time, many shoppers are encountering an experience that’s very different from what they are accustomed to. There may be long lines outside stores because only a limited number of people are allowed inside at a time. Changing rooms are closed in many places, forcing shoppers to approximate sizes and inevitably generating more returns. For some, shopping is simply less fun and far more transactional in the pandemic era.
On Sunday, shoppers waited outside the J. Crew Factory in an outlet mall in Westbrook, Conn.; signs said that the store’s capacity was 10 people and that masks were required. A greeter pointed customers to a table holding hand sanitizer when they walked in, and fitting rooms were unavailable. The shopping bore little resemblance to the leisurely, enjoyable experience that malls typically promote on their websites and in ads.
Still, outlet malls and other retailers in open-air spaces may be better off than indoor malls as Americans readjust to the new norms of shopping. Gap, for example, noted that it was seeing better results at Old Navy stores, which are often away from enclosed shopping malls, as customers were more confident in such locations and better able to take advantage of new services like curbside pickup.
Enclosed malls “seem like the weakest channel out there now in terms of traffic,” Mr. Sole said.
He said that while last month was better than expected for sellers of clothing and footwear, there was “a real wait-and-see attitude” about how back-to-school shopping might shape up in late July and early August and still concern about a potential second wave of the coronavirus.
Retailers are “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said.