US consumers appear to be dining more at home than going out; doing more shopping at price-competitive superstores, wholesale clubs, and “dollar” stores; and spending more time at the gym, spa, and cosmetics counter than they did the summer before the pandemic.
Those are just some of the headlines from recent data on trends in foot traffic from Placer.ai, an analytics platform that crunches real-time location input harvested via some 500 mobile phone applications installed on untold millions of devices. In charts that paint a vivid portrait of how American consumers have been responding to the pandemic — and more recently to surging food, fuel, and housing costs — Placer.ai recently reported that visits to dining establishments have fallen 11% from three years ago while grocery store foot traffic is about the same as it was in August 2019.
As we bear down on the year’s crucial holiday quarter, the losers in the Placer.ai report are in traditionally higher-profit categories, suggesting this will be a season of thinning margins. US apparel store visits lag pre-COVID days by 10%, or about 10 million fewer visits per week. Home improvement store traffic peaked in last year’s fourth quarter, when cabin-feverish consumers went on a spending spree to freshen their living spaces. That category is now seeing 11% fewer visits compared to three years ago. The hardest hit bricks-and-mortar retail sector has been electronics, with traffic falling off by 19% from the summer before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. It would seem those who wanted one have already bought that new television and Ring doorbell.