COVID-19 will upend retail, but there are steps we can take to save it

Over one-fifth of Americans are directly employed in retail and hospitality, including stores, bars and restaurants, tourism, and entertainment. That’s more than 32 million people working in an industry that’s currently being hammered by widespread closures and layoffs due to COVID-19.

There are a few bright spots in these categories—grocery stores, for example, which are staffing up to respond to the crisis. But the vast majority of these businesses and workers are facing existential calamity.

This is akin to an “evolutionary bottleneck,” when most living members of a species die and adaptive mutations flourish. Just as in nature, a bottleneck will wreak havoc on our retail ecosystem—and we might not like all the mutations that emerge, or the loss of the stores, products, and restaurants we are used to relying on.

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