Even after the pandemic ends, the retail sector is on track to close more than 80,000 stores, a 9-percent drop, as consumers continue their shift to online shopping.
"An enduring legacy of the pandemic is that online penetration rose sharply," wrote UBS analyst Michael Lasser.
"We expect that it will continue to increase, which will drive further rationalization of retail stores, especially as some of the unique support measures from the government subside."
Over a quarter of those stores will come from the clothing and accessory subsector, though office supply stores are projected to lose 45 percent of their current locations, more than 3,000 stores.
Stores specializing in home improvement, grocery stores and auto parts stores will see minimal impact.
The potential decline in retail could pose a significant challenge in a changing economic landscape, shifting jobs toward online fulfillment centers and putting pressure on the value of commercial real estate.
The analysis assumes that online penetration will grow from its current 18 percent to 27 percent by 2026, meaning the shift to online shopping would accelerate considerably even as the pandemic continues.
In 2020, average online spending for a single household rose from $5,800 to $7,100.
Many of the closures will be concentrated in malls, a tenth of which could close if the numbers hold.
To adapt, retailers could seek to use their stores to fulfill online orders, offering more pickup or direct delivery options.