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Monitoring The Effects Of COVID-19 With Location Data

Volume 2

Written by Foursquare on Mar 25, 2020 - Read time: 5 min - Read Later

The COVID-19 outbreak situation is changing rapidly, with new updates and regulations emerging on a daily, or even hourly basis. Last week, we shared some of the early effects of the virus on foot traffic to a variety of places, concentrating on the most affected regions and types of places, and we will be updating that foot traffic data on an ongoing basis as the situation continues to evolve in the U.S. Here is the most recent update:

While New York, California, and Washington remain some of the most impacted areas, by this week it is clear that this is a national pandemic, with confirmed cases in every state. Heeding advice from authorities to ‘distance socially’ and stay home except for essential activity, Americans are changing their behaviors considerably, with the patterns we saw last week becoming even more pronounced, country-wide. Nationally, visits to places like restaurants, bars, gyms, and malls are all down ~40% or more; meanwhile, traffic to grocery and warehouse stores remain quite elevated as people ‘stock up’ for what’s ahead. 

The analysis below details what we’ve seen to date, across an expanded set of major consumer categories. Using our location data, we are committed to continuing to provide information on how behaviors are changing throughout these troubling times.
 

Our Methodology

We’ve focused our analysis on some of the most impacted major cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. We’ve also provided a national view to shed light on macro trends.  

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 in Seattle 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.” 

In the past 7 days, many regions, including those analyzed here, have ordered residents to stay-at-home or shelter-in-place, mandating closure of non-essential businesses such as gyms and bars. Given this analysis is on a rolling 7-day basis through March 20, most of the data reflected below precedes those closures, which will certainly cause even further declines.
 

What Does The Data Show?

Consumer behavior has changed considerably since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Here are some of the new trends we’re seeing in the data from last week, through Friday, March 20:

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.’ 


 

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. For this report, we looked at data from 2020 year to date.

The charts above illustrate indexed foot traffic to various locations. We’ve also used rolling 7 day averages to account for fluctuations in foot traffic by day of the week. 

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

  • San Francisco, CA: San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Sonoma County Airport (STS), and Palo Alto Airport (PAO)

  • New York, NY: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

  • Los Angeles, CA: John Wayne Airport (SNA) Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Long Beach Airport (LGB), San Gabriel Airport (EMT), Riverside Municipal Airport (RAL), Santa Monica Airport (SMO), San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) Ontario International Airport (ONT), Hawthorne Municipal Airport (HHR), Oxnard Airport (OXR), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)

  • Seattle, WA: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

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Monitoring The Effects Of COVID-19 With Location Data

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