Precautions around the spread of Covid-19 continue to be a tradeoff of health/safety and economic impact. We endorse the former while recognizing the latter’s effect on local commerce. A combination of self-quarantines, social distancing and state mandates has undeniable consequences for local businesses.
But there are lots of best practices for offsetting attrition in the “new reality.” For example, see Neal Polachek’s original reporting on high-touch professional services like dentists operating in the current environment; and Charles Laughlin’s discussion with a local merchant surviving on hustle and authenticity.
Foot Traffic: Straight to the Source
To further inform the world about the impact on local business, the folks at Foursquare have put their location intelligence platform to work to report on foot traffic patterns in these uncertain times. They make the caveat that this is a developing story, but the results so far are indicative of the times.
With that backdrop, what do the data indicate?
First, the data validate the logical and expected changes in consumer behavior. This includes large-scale inflections in things like travel cancellations, working at home, stocking up on provisions (warehouse and grocery); and avoiding bars, restaurants and movie theaters. QSR and gas station activity is up.
But the question with all of the above is how much? Here’s the deep dive:
- Cancelling Travel Plans
Airport visits have declined across cities and states with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. After upticks in airport visits over the holiday weekends of Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day, location data shows a gradual decline in airport visits since the outbreak of COVID-19. Foot traffic to airports has declined most in Seattle and the Bay Area, down 24-27% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. Visits to New York airports declined 22%, while Los Angeles airports declined 15%.
- Working from Home
Visits to offices are declining in major cities with confirmed cases of COVID-19, as employees opt to or are advised to work remotely. Declines began in earnest in Washington, California and New York around March 2, as U.S. news coverage of the outbreak began to pick up. While the largest initial decline took place in Seattle, San Francisco offices have since surpassed Seattle offices with the largest relative decline, with foot traffic down 46% from the week ending February 24 to the week ending March 13. Meanwhile, visits to offices in New York are down 13% and visits to offices in Los Angeles are down 15%.
- Stocking Up On Supplies
Visits to grocery stores and warehouse stores are on the rise in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City since the outbreak of COVID-19, as people shop for food, drinks, and supplies. People seem to be buying in bulk, with visits to warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco up nearly 39% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. The largest relative increase was in the New York City area, where foot traffic to warehouse stores is up more than 51%.People are also flocking to grocery stores. After gradual increases since February 24, grocery stores saw a sharp spike in visits around March 11-13, with visits up 19% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. The largest relative uptick has been in Los Angeles, where foot traffic to grocery stores is up 27%.
- Avoiding Sit-Down Restaurants
Visits to casual dining restaurant 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 11% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. In the four cities we focused on (New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco), there was a decline (8-12%) in visits around February 24 in all four cities, and then foot traffic remained fairly stable in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City from February 24 to March 8. Visits began declining again around March 11, perhaps indicating cities will continue to see further declines as the pandemic grows.
- Still Eating Fast Food
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, foot traffic to QSRs actually increased, up 11% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. Amongst the cities with major outbreaks, we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in QSR visits in New York in particular, where foot traffic is up 9%.
- Avoiding the Bar
Visits to nightlife spots are only down 4% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13, despite the guidance to distance socially. San Francisco bars have seen the greatest decline in foot traffic, down 15%. Meanwhile, visits to bars in New York City have only declined 7%.
- Avoiding Movie Theaters
Visits to movie theaters are declining in Seattle, San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles since the outbreak of COVID-19, perhaps because people are opting to stream movies and television shows at home, rather than going to crowded public spaces for entertainment. Visits to movie theaters are down 24% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13. Amongst the four cities with major outbreaks, Seattle and New York City cinemas have seen the greatest declines, down approximately 33%. Meanwhile, visits to movie theaters in San Francisco declined 30% and visits to movie theaters in Los Angeles declined 27%.
- Filling Up On Gas
Visits to gas stations are up 11% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending March 13, perhaps as consumers prepare for unforeseen circumstances. Amongst cities with the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks, gas stations are actually seeing the largest relative uptick in foot traffic in the New York area, perhaps as people avoid crowded public transportation. Visits to gas stations in New York are up 12%. Meanwhile, visits to gas stations have remained fairly stable in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Foursquare promises to circle back to update the data and keep it fresh as situations develop. As for credibility as a data source, Foursquare analyzes foot traffic patterns from more than 13 million Americans that make up its always-on panel. Data are aggregated and anonymized.
The data above include 2020 year-to-date foot traffic for a baseline of activity. It specifically looks at indexed foot traffic to various locations using rolling 7-day averages to account for fluctuations by day of week. Its airport analysis includes those serving SF, NYC, LA and Seattle.
More to come as this develops, and see our past Foursquare coverage here.