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How COVID-19 Is Changing Consumer Behavior

Volume 5

Written by Foursquare on Apr 16, 2020 - Read time: 10 min - Read Later

As COVID-19 continues to spread, we’re committed to sharing how the virus is impacting foot traffic to a variety of places (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here).

This week, we revisit how consumers are behaving in different parts of the country since the outbreak began. Visitation to many places remained stable week over week since the beginning of April, perhaps indicating that people are starting to settle into the ‘new normal.’  In order to build a more comprehensive view of daily life since COVID-19, we’ve also examined the virus’ effect on some new places -- hair salons, barbershops and nail salons, as well as auto parts and service centers. 

In the analysis below, we detail foot traffic patterns to date across all major consumer categories.  Using our location data, we will continue to provide information about how behaviors are changing throughout these troubling times.
 

Our Methodology

We use indexed foot traffic to demonstrate the relative decline in visits to different types of places, where visits on the first day are 100. We analyze data on a rolling 7-day basis to reduce the effects of foot traffic trends influenced by certain days of the week (for example, bars and clubs experience an uptick on Fridays and Saturdays).

So, to explain this in an example, an 81 index to airports for March 6 indicates that foot traffic between February 29 - March 6 (a 7-day rolling period) is 19% lower than the first 7 days of analysis, February 13 - February 19.

We used February 13 - February 19 as the first 7-day period benchmark for analysis because February 19 is when we last estimated foot traffic to be roughly normal for the categories analyzed. You’ll see us reference this period as “the week ending February 19.”
 

What Does The Latest Data Show?

Here are some new trends we’re seeing in the data from last week, through Friday, April 10.

  • Skipping Beauty Treatments - As non-essential businesses, salons have seen significant declines in foot traffic since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Hair salon and nail salon visits were both down 42% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.  Salon traffic declined relatively less in rural areas, and declined less in the South compared to other regions. Salons traffic has also declined more amongst women than amongst men.

    Rather than visiting the salon, people seem to be buying beauty products to treat themselves at home. In a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel visiting pharmacies April 8 - 14, 22% of respondents said that they purchased personal care items and 9% purchased beauty products. People may be picking up self-care items while they’re at the grocery store as well -- 16% of grocery store visitors surveyed April 8 - 14 reported buying personal care items. 

  • Requiring Fewer Auto Repairs -  Although cars are undoubtedly still breaking down, fewer people on the road means fewer trips to auto parts and service centers. Visits to automotive shops have declined 14% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.  Visits are down more in urban areas (24%) than in rural areas (3%), and more in the Northeast and West than in the South and Midwest. Auto parts visits are down more amongst women than amongst men, and down more amongst older audiences than amongst younger consumers.

Here are updates on all the top 10 trends we shared last week

1. Cancelling Travel Plans - Location data confirms that people are traveling much less since the COVID-19 outbreak. Visits to airports are down 79% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. Airport traffic is down most in the Northeast (82%) and least in the Midwest (74%).  Air travel is not likely to pick up again soon -- in a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always on-panel April 8 - 14 2020, only 1-2% of respondents planned to visit an airport in the next week. Visits to hotels are also down 65% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.

2. Stocking Up On Supplies -  Foot traffic to warehouse stores spiked early on following the outbreak of COVID-19, as people bought supplies in bulk. Visits to warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club were up 41% nationally the week ending March 17. However, warehouse store traffic has since declined to below normal levels, down 8% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.

Foot traffic to grocery stores reached a peak the week ending March 19, with visits up 35% nationally. Grocery visits have gradually declined since then, and were only up 5% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. However, in a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always on panel April 8 - 14, 61% of respondents planned to visit a grocery store within the next week.

Visits to big box stores spiked around March 18 as well, followed by a decline until around March 31. Big box traffic then picked back up slightly around the last week of March and first week of April, perhaps indicating that people ran out of supplies and went out for more. However, big box visits then declined again, and were down 10% as of the week ending April 10. A survey of Foursquare’s always-on panel indicates that people visiting big box stores are purchasing groceries, household items, health and beauty products, with much fewer people purchasing non-essentials from categories like furniture and home goods, sports and fitness or travel and luggage.

Discount stores similarly saw a notable uptick in foot traffic around March 18, with visits up 18% nationally from the week ending February 19. However, visits then returned to roughly normal levels by the week ending April 10. Analyzing visit patterns by region revealed that discount store traffic was slightly up (1-3%) in the Midwest and South, but down 3% in the Northeast and down 15% in the West as of April 10.

Convenience stores also saw a small increase in foot traffic around March 18, with visits up 6% nationally from the week ending February 19.  However, visits to convenience stores have since declined, down 11% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. Convenience store visits have declined less in the Midwest, with visits down only 6% (versus 12-13% in other regions).

Keep in mind that men are more likely to be shopping than women, particularly at larger format stores. While visits to warehouse stores and big box stores were now down amongst women by the week ending April 10, foot traffic to these stores was up amongst men, perhaps indicating that women are better adhering to stay-at-home guidance, while men are still shopping in stores.

3. Dining & Drinking At Home - Foot traffic to quick service restaurants (QSRs) has remained fairly stable over the past two weeks, down 16% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. Fast food visits declined most in urban areas (down 21%) and least in rural areas (down only 11%).  QSRs have experienced the greatest declines in the West (down 18%), with smaller relative drops in the Midwest and Northeast (down 13% and 14% respectively). 98% of people who are still visiting QSRs are opting to drive through or take out, according to a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel April 8 - 14. 

Meanwhile, visits to casual dining restaurants (CDRs) were down 73% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. While 69% of casual diners were still dining in restaurants a few weeks ago (March 20 - 24), 99% of people who visited casual dining chains April 1-7 chose to take out rather than dine in, according to recent surveys of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel. 

Traffic to bars is down 56% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10, consistent over the past several weeks. Bar visits are down most in the West (down 65%), and relatively less in the Midwest. Instead, people are stocking up on drinks to enjoy at home. Liquor store visits peaked around March 20, and then began declining through March 31. However, traffic then started to rise again starting April 1, perhaps indicating people ran out of beverages and started heading back to the store for more.  Liquor store visits steadily increased through April 10, up 6% since to the week ending February 19. Analyzing traffic to liquor stores by region, we see that visits rose most in the Midwest (up 12%), but visits were actually down in the West over the past several weeks, perhaps indicating that people in these states are ordering their booze online instead.

4. Working From Home -  Visits to offices declined 41% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10, as employees opt to or are advised to work remotely. Office visits declined most in the West (down 46%) and least in the Midwest (down 37%). Foot traffic to offices declined most in urban areas (down 65%) and least in rural areas (down only 20%). In a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel April 8 - 14, only 19% of respondents intended to visit their office or place of work within the next week.

5. Fixing Up The House -  Location data shows that home improvement is on the rise. Visits to hardware stores are up 33% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.  In a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel April 8 - 14 2020, 67% of hardware store visitors confirmed that they were shopping for personal home maintenance or DIY projects, rather than for professional reasons or for supplies related to the COVID-19 outbreak. More than ¼ of hardware store visitors reported shopping for lawn and garden products, indicating people may be investing their time and energy in yard work.

6. Finding New Fitness Routines - Foot traffic to gyms has declined more than 66% from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.

7. Shopping Online Rather Than In-Store - It’s evident that people are not shopping for non-essentials at brick and mortar retailers since the COVID-19 outbreak began, with foot traffic to malls down 65% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. Taking a closer look at specific specialty retailers, we see that traffic to clothing stores declined 74% and traffic to furniture stores declined 60% by the week ending April 10. Both apparel and home stores have seen the greatest relative declines in the Northeast, down 80% and 66% respectively.

8. Streaming Movies Instead of Watching In Theaters - Visits to movie theaters were down 76% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10.

9. Banking Online - Physical bank branches saw an uptick in foot traffic around March 5, followed by a decline in visits through March 30. Banks then saw another uptick in traffic, with visits reaching roughly normal levels around April 3, before declining again to -10% by the week ending April 10. Bank visits were down most in the West and the South (down 11%), and least in the Midwest (down 6%) as of April 10. Traffic to banks declined most in urban areas (down 19%) and has actually remained fairly stable in rural areas.

10. On The Road Less - Visits to gas stations have remained fairly stable over the past two weeks, down 11% nationally from the week ending February 19 to the week ending April 10. Gas station visits have declined more in the West and Northeast (down 16% and 12% respectively), and less in the South and Midwest. Traffic has also declined more in urban areas (down 21%) and less in rural areas (down only 5%).  Most people who are still visiting gas stations are buying food, drinks and supplies in the store (64%), according to a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel. Furthermore, 41% of consumers surveyed plan to visit a gas station store within the next week.

We’ll be monitoring foot traffic patterns closely over the coming weeks, so check back for more updates.
 

 

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Editor's Note: Foursquare analyzes foot traffic patterns from more than 13 million Americans that make up our always-on panel. All data is either anonymized, pseudonymized or aggregated, and is normalized against U.S. Census data to remove age, gender and geographical bias. 

The charts above illustrate indexed foot traffic to various locations. We’ve used rolling 7 day averages to account for fluctuations in foot traffic by day of the week. Visits are projected based on user profile representation relative to census. These projection factors are updating regularly. These updates may cause slight shifts in indexed foot traffic week-to-week.

Casual dining restaurants analyzed include casual dining chains in National Restaurant News’ Top 500 Chains. 

Survey data mentioned above is derived from a survey of consumers in Foursquare’s always-on panel, delivered via owned and operated mobile apps (Panel App, Frequent Flyer and Give 2 Charity) from April 3-7 2020.

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