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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The titans of the retail industry — Amazon, Walmart, Target and Costco — are poised to come out of the coronavirus crisis even stronger and more formidable than they were before, as smaller rivals suffer and wither.

Why it matters: The pandemic will permanently reshape America's retail landscape — accelerating a winner-take-all race that started taking shape before stores were forced to close.

What's happening: With piles of cash, extensive delivery networks and massive physical footprints to navigate the pandemic, America’s biggest retailers are raking in sales.

  • They're proving impervious to the effects of the retail shutdown that has hobbled smaller rivals.
  • Even midsized store chains — the nation's mall anchors — are running out of time to survive.
  • Per CNN: "Sears, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus and J. Crew were some of the most distressed companies prior to the outbreak" and they "may not be able to survive the coronavirus crisis."

Amazon has "essentially become infrastructure," says Sally Hubbard, a director at the Open Markets Institute and a former assistant attorney general in New York's antitrust bureau. As the country stays home and observes social distancing guidelines, its reliance on Amazon is becoming increasingly apparent.

  • Sales of certain products on Amazon have spiked, according to CommerceIQ, a company that helps businesses handle sales, advertising and operations on Amazon.com.
    • Cold and flu medicine sales are up 861%
    • Hand soap: 512%
    • Dog food: 947%
    • Chips: 376%.
  • Customer spending on Amazon is up 35% compared with the same period last year, per Recode.
  • Grocery delivery — a big investment for Amazon that had been slow to take off — is suddenly wildly popular, with shoppers fighting to grab open delivery windows.
  • Amazon is even profiting from our heightened dependence on internet connectivity and streaming entertainment, through Amazon Web Services and Prime Video.

"The growth of e-commerce is going to accelerate by at least five years, if not 10 years," says Guru Hariharan, CEO of CommerceIQ. "Brick and mortar stores are losing big right now."

  • Bricks have ceded market share to clicks — and Amazon is around 40% of U.S. e-commerce.

Even when Americans are going to stores, they're choosing the giants.

  • Walmart saw its in-store sales jump 20% in March, while online sales surged by 30%.
  • Costco's sales went up by 12%.
  • Target's overall sales surged 25%.

The other side: Smaller stores are bleeding out. Mom-and-pop retailers are lining up for federally backed loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and last week, the Federal Reserve said it would backstop loans for midsized companies as well — up to 10,000 workers.

  • U.S. retail saw a 60% decline in foot traffic in March, a gut punch that hit all businesses except the giants, according to Coresight Research.
  • Amazon and Walmart are hiring a combined 250,000 workers to keep up with demand.
  • But millions of Americans who work for smaller or struggling retailers — even Macy's and Gap — have been furloughed.
  • Not all of them will get their jobs back when the economy opens again, says Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester research.

The bottom line: "The strong are getting stronger," Kodali says. "If the questions around Amazon and antitrust were not strong enough before this crisis, they're going to be very, very front and center after this."

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten the embassy's ability to assist Americans.

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).