Coronavirus Outbreak: Could it hurt 'touch & feel' shopping trends?

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As more confirmed cases of coronavirus are reported, the situation may find shoppers thinking about the safety of malls as a place to gather and to check out merchandise. Some customers say they prefer to touch and feel products, which they can't do online. But will that change as coronavirus spreads?

Mall walking is popular among seniors because it's a safe environment. But a new trend is evident to make malls a welcoming place for people of all ages to gather and socialize. The newly expanded Valley Fair in San Jose has plenty of places to linger outdoors and inside.

"This is about kind of disconnecting and coming to a place where you can meet your friends, your family, have intimate experiences, really engage with one another and just have a pleasant time," said Larry Green, executive vice president of development at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the owner of Valley Fair.

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But that has some shoppers thinking about crowded environments and the potential spread of coronavirus.

"Whatever's going to happen is going to happen," said Dennis Pizzo of San Jose. "Yeah, it is kind of concerning, and I don't see a lot of hand sanitizer here yet."

The region's newest boutiques and shops are focused on giving customers a touch and feel experience -- something they don't get when shopping online. That means touching merchandise that has been handled by countless others before them, which could be worrisome with COVID-19.
That could also be a problem for online retailers who have opened brick and mortar stores because they sensed a need for customers to touch and feel products. We the People is a new outlet for products created by small-scale entrepreneurs who raised money from crowdsourcing.

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"When they see it live on the spot and when they try and experience it, they feel good about it," said Nison Chan, co-founder and managing director of We the People.

We spotted only a few shoppers wearing face masks as they checked out the expanded Valley Fair. Crowds are expected to swell this weekend when people have more time to explore the stores and mall features. There will be more to touch and feel than ever. But will they?

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