The retail industry was in the midst of a transformation before 2020. But the pandemic accelerated that change, fundamentally reordering how and where people shop, and rippling across the broader economy.
Many stores closed for good, as chains cut locations or filed for bankruptcy, displacing everyone from highly paid executives to hourly workers. Amazon grew even more powerful and unavoidable as millions of people bought goods online during lockdowns.
The divide between essential businesses allowed to stay open and nonessential ones forced to close drove shoppers to big-box chains like Walmart, Target and Dick’s and worsened the troubles of struggling department stores. The apparel industry and many malls were battered as millions of Americans stayed home and myriad dress-up events, including proms and weddings, were canceled or postponed.
This year’s civil unrest and its thorny issues for American society also hit retailers. Businesses closed because of protests over George Floyd’s killing by a white police officer, and they reckoned with their own failings when it came to race.
The challenges faced by working parents, including the cost and availability of basic child care during the pandemic, were felt keenly by women working at stores from CVS to Bloomingdale’s. And there were questions about the treatment of workers, as retailers and their backers treated employees shoddily during bankruptcies or failed to offer hazard pay or adequate notifications about outbreaks of Covid-19 in workplaces.
Many Americans felt the retail upheaval — the industry is the second-biggest private employment sector in the United States — and some shared their experiences this year with The New York Times.