Retail Foot Traffic Rebounded in December In These Cities

Urban retail foot traffic has exhibited an uneven recovery across major metros, with broad variations in visits as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Placer.ai’s Shira Petrack delved into foot traffic numbers for four major cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston – and found that the Big Apple suffered the heaviest blow. Summer foot traffic was nearly back to pre-COVID levels, but dropped in August and has remained at pre-pandemic levels since. 

The data in LA told a similar story, with year-over-two-year retail growth down for most of last year, a factor Petrack said could be attributed to migration of Angelenos into inland and mountain communities. 

In Chicago and Houston, “the situation looked slightly rosier,” Petrack said. The year-over-two-year gap did grow in September, thanks in part to the rise of the Delta variant, but visits bounced back quickly with retail foot traffic 1% higher in October than it had been in 2019.  December retail visits hit pre-pandemic levels in December.

“But behind the overall retail visit numbers lies a more complicated reality,” Petrack says. “Some retailers are thriving in cities that have yet to make a full visit recovery, while other brands whose foot traffic is strong nationwide are still lagging behind in areas where overall retail visits are growing.”

Solving that riddle requires diving into how different major retailers are performing regionally, she says. Target did well in all four cities and was best in the Big Apple, despite Yo2Y retail visits in New York clocking in lower than in the three other cities. Planet Fitness Yo2Y monthly visits in the fourth quarter were also up in New York City, and Starbucks in NYC outperformed the national average for the chain. 

Starbucks underperformed in Los Angeles, while Target foot traffic increased over 2019 levels but remained below the national average. Planet Fitness visits in LA decreased by 0.9% in October compared to 2019 but “skyrocketed” in November and December to outperform the national average. 

Chicago, which has seen the strongest retail recovery of the four cities Petrack analyzed, saw Target and Starbucks underperform their nationwide average. 

“But the retail giant and the coffee leader still posted Yo2Y visit growth almost every month, a testament to the nearly universal appeal of these brands,” Petrack notes. “Planet Fitness in the Windy City also saw a slight Yo2Y dip in August while overall retail visits increased – but the fitness brand saw strong growth in Chicago in November and December, even though average Yo2Y retail visits for those months stood at -1% and 0%, respectively.” 

And Houston, which has also seen a strong overall retail recovery, saw visits to Target and Planet Fitness “skyrocket” and outperform the national average. 

“Looking at city-specific overall retail visits and comparing the city-specific brand foot traffic to the brand’s nationwide average can uncover regional disparities in retail recovery rates,” Petrack says. “So, while overall foot traffic numbers for nationwide retail categories or brands can give a good sense of the average foot traffic performance across a region or chain, diving into the regional performance provides a whole different level of insight.”

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