• Kyodo

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Department store sales sank 33.4 percent in March, posting a record fall that looks likely to be broken this month as the coronavirus keeps customers at bay, an industry body said Friday.

Sales at 205 department stores run by 74 companies came to a combined ¥340.36 billion ($3.1 billion) in March, falling for the sixth consecutivve month, the Japan Department Stores Association said.

March's year-on-year drop outstripped the previous record of 20.8 percent logged in March 1998. But the association said a steeper fall is likely because sales at major stores plummeted 65 percent from April 1 to 16 alone.

The gloomy outlook puts the department store industry in the same boat as the hotel industry as one the sectors damaged most heavily by the pandemic. Both are highly dependent on tourists from China.

In March, duty-free sales plunged 85.7 percent for the second consecutive monthly drop, reflecting the 93.4 percent plunge in inbound travelers caused by stricter border controls to curb the virus.

Sales of clothing and foodstuffs, which combined account for roughly 60 percent of the stores' overall sales, fell 39.9 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively, in March.

Travel bans and the government's request to avoid nonessential outings dented visits by 34.5 percent in the month. Some stores decided to close due to the drop in customers, while others shortened their hours.

More department stores are now closed or are running on reduced hours in the wake of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's state of emergency declaration April 7 for Tokyo and six other prefectures through May 6. The declaration was subsequently expanded to the entire nation on April 16.

Amid the dire business environment, e-commerce and food delivery are making great strides.

Among the most popular items are women's gloves for preventing infection by the virus, the association said.

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