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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

2 hours ago - World

Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentioning Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday. Police responded to the shooting at around 12:42 a.m. and the suspect has not been found.

The big picture: The midnight shooting is the latest in a string of deadly mass shootings to hit the U.S. since March, fueling a debate in Washington about how to regulate the weapons.

Prosecutor on leave for failing to "fully present the facts" after shooting of 13-year-old boy

People march through Larimer Square as they protest the deaths of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo on April 17 in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Cook County prosecutor James Murphy was placed on administrative leave Friday after he implied in court that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by a police officer in March, was armed when he was shot, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times report.

Why it matters: Videos of the shooting show that Toledo dropped what appears to be a weapon and put his hands in the air a moment before before he was fatally shot. A lawyer for the Toledo family said Thursday that if the teen "had a gun, he tossed it."