How Coronavirus Has Impacted Foot Traffic Across Industries

Two separate studies, by Foursquare and Placer.ai, deliver some numbers.

Areas hit hardest by the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic saw the largest drops in foot traffic at airports. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of David Cohen

Key insights:

Were people already hunkering down in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, or were they out and about getting shopping done while they could?

According to two reports—one from location technology platform Foursquare and the other from foot traffic analytics platform Placer.ai—the answer is a little of both.

Foursquare detailed foot traffic patterns at airports, bars, grocers, offices, restaurants and warehouse stores in four cities—Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle—and found that visits to warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club went up nearly 39% between the week ending Feb. 19 and the week ending March 13, with the largest spike in the New York area (51%).

Visits to Costco on the last Saturday and Sunday of February were up 26.6% and 16.4%, respectively, compared with the same days last year, according to Placer.ai, while the increases were not as prominent on the first weekend in March (12.9% on Saturday and 5.6% on Sunday).

Sam’s Club saw foot traffic increases of 17.9% on the last Saturday of February and 24.1% on the last Sunday compared with 2019, Placer.ai found. Unlike Costco, those numbers rose during the first weekend of March to 36.1% and 25.3%, respectively.

Placer.ai vice president of marketing Ethan Chernofsky wrote, “Wholesale shopping is generally less frequent than normal supermarket trips, with shoppers stocking up for longer periods. In a time of ongoing focus on social distancing, wholesale shopping is uniquely aligned with that approach, allowing shoppers to accomplish more with less visits.”

Placer.ai also looked at big box stores Target and Walmart. Target saw 6.9% more foot traffic in the last week of February compared with the same period in 2019, and 10.5% in the first week of March, while those increases for Walmart were 2.2% and 5.6%, respectively.

“Target and Walmart both saw major visit increases in late February and early March, likely a result of their wide range of products and strong brand affinity,” Chernofsky wrote.

Foursquare saw gradual increases in foot traffic to grocery stores starting Feb. 24, with a sharp spike between March 11-13, with visits up 19% nationally that week versus the week ending Feb. 19. Los Angeles saw the biggest jump, at 27%.

As working from home shifted from a perk to a necessity, Foursquare found that while Seattle saw the largest decline of foot traffic to offices in the four markets, San Francisco posted the largest decline from the week ending Feb. 24 through March 13, at 46%, slightly more than Seattle.

Los Angeles and New York still had more people coming in to work during that period, as the declines in foot traffic to offices in those cities were 15% and 13%, respectively.

Foursquare said foot traffic to casual dining chains is down 11% nationwide, with drops of 8% to 12% in the four markets it studied.

Foot traffic in those cities remained fairly stable from Feb. 24 through March 8 before starting to slide again around March 11, suggesting that a further drop is inevitable.

The opposite was true for quick-service restaurants, as foot traffic was up 11% nationally between Feb. 19 and the week ending March 13, including a 9% uptick in the New York area.

Placer.ai said that while Chick-fil-A continued to outperform its 2019 results, the largest year-over-year gain among QSRs during the last week of February and the first week of March was posted by Popeyes, at 45.1% and 47.5%, respectively.

Chernofsky also pointed out, “Critically, though, this data does not take into account delivery, which could provide another huge strength during a period likely to be marked by lockdowns and greater emphasis on social distancing.”

Is last call coming for bars? Foursquare found that foot traffic to nightlife spots nationally was down just 4% from the week ending Feb. 19 to the week ending March 13, despite pleas for social distancing from health authorities and local governments.

Of the four markets it studied, San Francisco bars had the largest drop in foot traffic at 15%, while establishments in the New York area were down just 7%.

“Netflix and chill” has taken the place of going to the movies for the foreseeable future, as visits to movie theaters fell 24% nationally from the week ending Feb. 19 through the week ending March 13. Foot traffic was down roughly 33% in Seattle and New York, followed by San Francisco (30%) and Los Angeles (27%).

“These lessons don’t just apply in the face of a once-in-a-century virus,” Chernofsky concluded, “but also during more regular disruptions like inclement weather, economic downturns and more.”


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david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
Publish date: March 20, 2020 https://dev.adweek.com/digital/how-coronavirus-has-impacted-foot-traffic-across-industries/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT