The March Numbers Are In: Retail Sales Are Down But Not Out
The United States Census Bureau released preliminary figures for March sales in the US on April 15, which provided an official glimpse of the impact of COVID-19 on the US economy and retail spend. We expect the upcoming slate of earnings releases to reinforce the following narrative:
- Consumer spend is up at grocery stores (including alcohol stores), mass merchants, drugstores, and online.
- Consumer spend is down at restaurants, department stores, clothing stores, and just about every other retailer not selling food.
- The largest decline in consumer spend is in the automotive category, where some manufacturers reported sales declines of over 50% in March.
- Gas station sales were down double digits for March due to many consumers being homebound.
The declines calculated to date are better than what we expected — specifically, the decimation of every sector outside food and general merchandise for the last two weeks in March amounting to a decline of 15% or more for the month. Rather, this data suggests that the US economy has been surprisingly resilient and that retailers have relied heavily on promotions and pushing sales to digital channels to salvage figures. In the coming weeks, we will assess the sentiment from retailer earnings calls to confirm whether that is true. For now, check out our data on consumer sentiment and spend.
Apple And Google Contact Tracing: What You Need To Know
There is promise and peril in the contact tracing technology that Apple and Google are placing in the hands of public health officials around the world. The promise: that reputable public health agencies can give consumers information and alerts about COVID-19 transmission risk. Testing and infection knowledge are key to moving to the third phase of the pandemic: management. This phase will last until a vaccine is widely deployed. The perils are many: from consumer privacy discomfort to the rise of surveillance systems that far outlast the pandemic to abuse by bad actors. Still, it’s hard to imagine a vendor better suited to protecting consumers and society from privacy harm than Apple. And there is only one other platform vendor with the global reach to potentially help (no one would trust Facebook to represent their health interests free of advertising or harm). We call on Apple and Google to collaborate with the privacy and security community to make sure their alliance protects society, communities, and individuals.
Physical Robots Can Help Protect Us — And Our Workstations — From COVID-19
The University of Southern California has created a robot, ADAMMS-UV, that can shield humans from COVID-19. USC’s Center For Advanced Manufacturing within the Viterbi School of Engineering originally crafted ADAMMS to do machine-led tasks but recently modified it to perform disinfection tasks in public spaces such as offices, labs, schools, hotels, and dorms. The robot leverages UV light, a proven disinfectant, and is controlled by a remote operator who can remain far from the risk zone. The operator has access to multiple cameras mounted on the robot, which provides situational awareness and can run multiple robots to sanitize large areas. Our take: Broad use of robots like ADAMMS-UV can be helpful now — in fighting the spread of COVID-19 — and later — when businesses must consider employee health protections as part of their return-to-work strategies.