Foursquare Helps Quantify CV-19’s Impact on Local Commerce, Part II

Last week, we examined Foursquare’s new data on local-commerce foot traffic patterns — specifically in light of shifting behavior due to quarantining and other measures around the spread of Covid-19.  We also promised we’d stay on top of that moving target as new data become available.

It’s time to do just that, as Foursquare released the second batch of data, covering the week preceding March 20. As background, Foursquare put its location intelligence platform to work to report these patterns. This draws from its core technology that tracks large-scale opted-in mobile devices for location-marketing insights.

But in this context, the data uncover foot-traffic deltas versus baseline activity in normal times. (methodology here). The first batch quantified hoarding behavior (warehouse stores and gas stations).  Though that’s continued to some degree, behavior has also shifted to banks, liquor stores and hardware stores.

Much of this is logical and expected but there are some surprises. And even if we’re already familiar with these consumer patterns, the data can help quantify the degree to which they’re occurring.  That can be valuable for public awareness or even public policy for ongoing measures to curb the spread of the outbreak.

With that backdrop, here’s the deep dive:

1. Preparing Financially – Banks across the country saw a meaningful uptick in foot traffic around March 5, with visits up nearly 20% since the week ending February 19. People may have gone to their local bank branches to withdraw cash, apply for a loan, or otherwise make financial arrangements as the outbreak worsened.  From March 6 through the week ending March 20, foot traffic to banks seems to have gradually returned to more ‘normal’ levels. 

One notable exception is in San Francisco, where people were advised to ‘shelter in place’ on March 16. Foot traffic to banks saw a slight uptick on March 16 as people prepared for the order to go into effect. Visits then declined quickly, down 12% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. 


 

2. Finding New Fitness Routines – While visits to gyms remained stable through March 1, we’ve since seen a significant decline in foot traffic to fitness centers across the country and in top affected cities. Visits to gyms nationally are down 45% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. This may indicate that people are finding new ways to stay fit while still maintaining social distance, such as running outside or online workout videos. Foot traffic to gyms is down most in San Francisco, where people are ‘sheltering in place,’ followed by Seattle. 


 

3. Not Shopping For Clothes In-Store – People have been avoiding malls since the outbreak of COVID-19, with visits down -36% nationally from the week ending February 13 to the week ending March 20. Malls have seen the greatest decline in visits in New York, where visits are down 38%. 

Taking a closer look at apparel in particular, we see visits to brick and mortar clothing stores down -41% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. Among the four cities analyzed more closely, clothing store foot traffic declined earlier in San Francisco and Seattle, and later in Los Angeles and New York.  Similar to other types of places, we saw a particularly steep decline in foot traffic to clothing stores in San Francisco around March 16, when people began to ‘shelter in place.’


 

4. Fixing Up The House – Foot traffic to hardware stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s are up 26% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. People may be turning to these retailers for additional supplies, or perhaps they’re spending time on DIY projects while they’re at home. Visits to hardware stores increased in Seattle and New York in particular, with visits up 33% and 28% respectively from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. Meanwhile, visits to hardware stores in San Francisco declined 3% as people began to ‘shelter in place.’


 

5. Drinking at Home – Traffic to liquor stores has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19 as people opt to drink at home rather than going to the bar. Visits to liquor stores are up 25% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. The uptick in liquor store visits began around March 11, right around the time when foot traffic to bars began to decline in earnest. This timing also coincided with the NBA shutdown and Tom Hanks confirming he had tested positive – both events which perhaps made the outbreak feel more ‘real’ to American consumers.

We’ve seen a particularly large increase in liquor store visits in the New York area, with visits up 29% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20.


 

6. Avoiding Hotels – Last week, we showed significant declines in foot traffic to airports since the outbreak of COVID-19. Other parts of the travel industry are being similarly affected by the virus – visits to hotels are down 39% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20, as airlines cancel flights and consumers cancel their travel plans and opt to stay at home instead.


 

Here are some updates on the trends we reported on last week:

1. Cancelling Travel Plans – Airport visits have declined significantly since the outbreak of COVID-19, down 40% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. We’ve seen some of the biggest drops in the New York area, with traffic down 48% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. Meanwhile, airport visits are down 47% in the Bay Area, 46% in Seattle and 40% in Los Angeles.


 

2. Working from Home – Visits to offices continue to decline as employees opt to or are advised to work remotely.  Foot traffic to offices is down 31% nationally from the week ending February 24 to the week ending March 20. 

Among the major cities analyzed, San Francisco offices have seen the largest relative decline in foot traffic, with visits down 71% from the week ending February 24 to the week ending March 20. Meanwhile, visits to offices in Seattle are down 50%, visits to offices in New York are down 45% and visits to offices in Los Angeles are down 31%.


 

3. Stocking Up On Supplies – Foot traffic to warehouse stores spiked following the outbreak of COVID-19 as people shopped for food, drinks, and supplies. The greatest uptick was to warehouse stores in the New York area, where foot traffic was up 51% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13.  

However, visits to warehouse stores seem to have peaked around March 13-17, and visits have since started to decline. That being said, foot traffic to warehouse stores nationally is still up 29% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20.

We’ve also seen people flocking to grocery stores since the COVID-19 outbreak began. After gradual increases starting February 24, grocery stores saw a sharp spike in visits around March 13, when President Trump declared a national emergency. Although there was then a drop on March 14, grocery store visits have since increased again. Foot traffic to grocery stores is up 34% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. 

Grocery stores have seen the largest uptick in Los Angeles, with foot traffic up 40% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. Meanwhile, grocery store traffic is up 34% in New York, 25% in San Francisco, and 24% Seattle. 


 

4. Avoiding Sit-Down Restaurants – Visits to casual dining chains are down since the outbreak of COVID-19 as people distance themselves socially, dining at home rather than going out to eat. Nationally, casual dining chains’ foot traffic is down 47% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. 

Among  the four cities we focused on (New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco), there has been the greatest decline (59%) in visits in San Francisco, followed by Seattle (down 56%). Meanwhile, foot traffic to casual dining chains in New York is down 55% and in Los Angeles down 52% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. 


 

5. Eating Less Fast Food – Last week, we reported an uptick in foot traffic to quick service restaurants (QSRs) since the outbreak of COVID-19, perhaps from consumers visiting drive-throughs or picking up takeout. (Foursquare is able to measure these quick trips to fast food restaurants as long as the person’s visit lasts more than ~2 minutes.) After the initial increase in fast food visits, QSRs saw a steep decline in visits around March 13-14 (down ~10%), when President Trump declared a state of emergency. This drop also coincided with an uptick in visits to grocery stores, perhaps indicating that at this point, people began making a concerted effort to dine at home instead of going out to eat. Visits to fast food restaurants continued to decline from March 14 through the week ending March 20. 

Nationally, foot traffic to QSRs is down 11% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. There was a particularly large decline in San Francisco, starting with a drop starting on March 16 when people were advised to ‘shelter in place.’ QSR visits in the Bay Area were down 27% as of March 20.


 

6. Avoiding the Bar –  While foot traffic to nightlife spots only declined 4% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13, visits to bars declined 30% nationally by the week ending March 20.  

San Francisco bars have seen the greatest decline in foot traffic, down 55%, with a noticeable drop on March 16 when people were advised to ‘shelter in place.’ Meanwhile, visits to bars in New York City have declined 40%, a similar relative drop to Seattle and Los Angeles. 

The fact that visits to bars nationally have declined relatively less than the major cities analyzed  indicates that people in other parts of the country may still be visiting nightlife spots, or at least more so than people in these major cities.


 

7. Avoiding Movie Theaters – Visits to movie theaters are down 55% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20. Compared to other types of places, movie theaters were actually one of the first types of places to see significant declines in foot traffic. 


 

8. Filling Up On Gas – Although visits to gas stations rose 11% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13, visits to gas stations dropped sharply on March 14, and then remained fairly stable in most cities through the week ending March 20. 

One notable exception is San Francisco, where visits to gas stations are down 23% as people ‘shelter in place.’ 

 

More to come as this develops, and see our past Foursquare coverage here.

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