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

Over the past two weeks, 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.

True to that promise, we’re back with Foursquare’s third batch of data covering the week ending March 27. 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 two batches covered the beginnings of regional shelter-in-place orders, while the third batch reflects greater nationwide coverage (though there are still some states holding out, as we know…)

Specifically, urban centers lead the way in social distancing, as do Western states. Compared with the first two data sets, there’s also trending for outdoor activities such as parks and other exercise destinations as people are stir crazy and unable to go to the gym. Take out is also on the rise — a positive sign for local restaurants.

With that backdrop, here’s the deep dive:

1. Cancelling Travel Plans – Location data verifies that people are traveling significantly less since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Airport visits have declined dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19, down 66% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. Foot traffic to hotels was also down 61% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27 as people stayed at home. Airport visits were down most in the Northeast, while hotel visits were down most in the West as of March 27.

2. Stocking Up On Supplies –  Foot traffic to warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club spiked early on following the outbreak of COVID-19 as people bought supplies in bulk. However, warehouse store traffic has since returned to roughly normal levels, up only 3% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. 

After stocking up on supplies for a few weeks, people started going to grocery stores more to replenish their food. When Foursquare surveyed people who visited a grocery store March 20 through March 24, 76% of respondents said that they visited the store to pick up a few items they were out of, whereas only 24% were “stocking up for the next few weeks.” When asked what types of items they intended to purchase, grocery store visitors in this time frame showed the highest purchase intent for fresh dairy and produce. We’ve seen foot traffic to grocery stores gradually decline since March 20, up only 13% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. Visits to grocery stores are actually up less in the West now compared to other regions, perhaps due to people ‘sheltering in place.’

As of March 27, the retailers with the largest relative upticks in foot traffic were drug stores. Visits to drug stores like CVS and Walgreens were up 28% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. This may indicate that people have turned their attention to prescriptions, personal care items, over-the-counter medications and other necessities.  While visits to drug stores rose first in the West, traffic is now up the most relatively in the South, up 51% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. 

3. Dining & Drinking At Home – As mentioned above, foot traffic to grocery stores is up 13% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27.  Meanwhile, both QSRs and casual dining chains saw a steep decline in visits around March 13-14 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.  Nationally, foot traffic to casual dining chains is down 73% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27, and foot traffic to QSRs is down 18%. 

While people were slower to stop visiting nightlife spots compared to other types of places, visits to bars did eventually decline, down 56% nationally by the week ending March 27.  Meanwhile, liquor stores were deemed ‘essential’ and foot traffic rose as people prepared to imbibe at home instead. However, liquor store visits seem to have peaked around March 20 and since declined, only up 5% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. This may indicate that people stocked up on enough drinks for the time being, and began ‘hunkering down’ at home. 

4. Generally Staying In

• Working From Home – Despite an initial uptick in foot traffic following President’s Day weekend, foot traffic to offices has declined significantly since around February 24.  Office visits are down 37% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 20, as employees opt to or are advised to work remotely. 

• Fixing Up The House – Foot traffic to hardware stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s are up 27% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27, with smaller declines in the West. 

• Finding New Fitness Routines – Visits to gyms nationally are down 64% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27 as people find alternative, socially distant workouts. Visits are down most in the Midwest and Northeast, and slightly less in the South and West.

• Shopping Online Instead of In-Store – People have been steering clear of malls since the outbreak of COVID-19, with visits down 61% nationally from the week ending February 13 to the week ending March 27. Taking a closer look at apparel in particular, we see visits to brick and mortar clothing stores were down 72% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27.

• Streaming Movies Instead Of Watching In Theaters – Compared to other types of places, movie theaters were one of the first types of places to see significant declines in foot traffic. Visits to movie theaters were down 75% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27.  Theater visits were down most in the Northeast (down 79%) and least in the Midwest (down 75%). 

• Banking Online – Despite initial upticks, foot traffic to banks was down 13% nationally as of March 27, as people opt to stay at home. Visits were down most in the West (down 16%) and least in the Midwest (down 11%). 

• On The Road Less – After initial upticks in foot traffic, gas stations like Exxon and BP are now showing slight declines, down 7-8% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 27. Visits were down most in the West (down 13%) and least in the South (down 4%). 

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

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