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As with major weather events, retailers' top priority as COVID-19 has spread globally in recent weeks is the health and safety of their workers and customers. Those concerns early in the year led Levi's, and many other retailers, to shutter stores within China and restrict employee travel into and out of the country.
Several weeks on, the virus has arrived in the U.S. and other countries outside China, with 93,000 cases tracked worldwide as of March 4, according to the World Health Organization. Many details about the flu-like disease, which is caused by a member of the coronavirus family, remain unknown, and health officials are still working out how far and for how long it might spread. But as more cases of the disease have been reported globally, problems for the retail industry have emerged.
Perhaps most disrupted is the supply chain, as factories shutter within China (compounding issues introduced by the Trump Administration's tariff policies last year). This week, the epidemic also hit home for Amazon and REI, which both operate in the Seattle area where a few U.S. cases are clustered, according to KOMO News. An employee at Amazon was diagnosed with COVID-19. REI closed three Seattle-area campuses after two employees reported possible exposure to coronavirus.
The National Retail Federation at the end of last month maintained its prediction for retail sales growth this year of 3.5% to 4.1%, to more than $3.9 trillion, despite uncertainty around the trade war, the COVID-19 outbreak and the presidential election. At that point, however, coronavirus was already coming up in dozens of earnings calls, even pushing down guidance in some cases, and that has only escalated since.