MILAN — The coronavirus emergency that caused the closure of commercial activities, travel limitations and a significant change in consumers’ lifestyle has struck a blow to the Italian economy.
According to a study conducted by consulting firm Ernst & Young for Confimprese — the national association of retailers — local consumption decreased 26 percent in the first quarter of the year. In particular, the research offers analysis and statistics on the performance of retailers operating in the fashion and clothing industry, food and beverage category and in the nonfood sector, including cosmetics and furniture.
“Even though we kicked off well in January, with sales up 1.3 percent, starting from February we registered a slowdown given the uncertainty and the evolution of the epidemic,” said Mario Maiocchi, managing director of Confimprese. Overall sales decreased 2.9 percent in February, dropped 40 percent at the beginning of March and 79 percent in the second part of the month.
The fashion and clothing sector was hit the hardest, as sales in March were down 82.3 percent compared to the same period last year, causing a decrease of 24.9 percent in the first three months of 2020 compared to the first quarter last year.
“The March collapse was different among the sectors,” said Ernst & Young’s business consulting leader Paolo Lobetti Bodoni, mentioning that sales of food and beverage operators were down 78 percent, while the ones of the “nonfood” category decreased 74 percent last month. “These trends are partly due to the fact that some operators could ensure a bit of continuity to their activities during the lockdown and that consumers pivoted toward purchasing goods that were immediately more necessary.”
In terms of distribution, the lockdown and consequent travel ban caused overall sales to drop 86 percent in airports and train stations in March, decreasing 30 percent in the first quarter of the year. Sales in malls and outlets also decreased 82 and 83 percent, respectively, in March, while independent retailers located in smaller towns or in the suburbs showed slightly more resilience.
Geographically, the Lombardy region — the most affected by the virus spread — registered the worst performance, as overall consumption dropped 83 percent in March, followed by a similar trend in Tuscany.
“To get ready for the ‘phase two’ becomes key. To drive sales it will be necessary to think of new ways to interact with the consumer in the physical retail and online channel, including the configuration of the stores, e-commerce and food delivery. The digital channel is confirmed to be an essential element to continue to sustain the business and the customer relationship,” said Lobetti Bodoni.
“We will have to deal with a different market and only the operators who will be able to intercept these changes rapidly and leverage them will come out of the crisis unscathed, if not even strengthened. But investments will be necessary in order to seize these opportunities and we hope to count on the support of the government on this,” concluded Maiocchi.