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China's retailers face hard truth: If you reopen, they won't come

Customer traffic down by more than half at Shanghai Walmart branch

Customers have been slow to return, with traffic at this Walmart near Shanghai at less than half of usual levels. (Photo by Naoki Matsuda)

SHANGHAI -- Shopping malls and stores in China have quickly reopened as the government promotes a return to business as usual, only to see consumers stay home and keep their purse strings tight or shop online.

Customer traffic is "less than half of usual levels," said a worker at a Walmart store in a Shanghai suburb late last month. Shelves in the vegetable and meat departments were well-stocked, but few shoppers passed through the aisles during the normally busy late-afternoon hours. Even with its online delivery service, "sales are not growing at all," the source said.

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