The Impact of Consumer Behavior on Grocery Store Foot Traffic

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It’s been several months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and consumer behavior continues to shift. Foot traffic is one indicator of how consumer behavior is evolving. As states continue — or reverse — their reopening plans, grocery stores remain essential businesses. Many stores have implemented social distancing practices and modified their in-store best practices to bring consumers in the door and keep them coming back. Grocery stores are also finding success with curbside pick-up and grocery delivery, and continue to iterate on these services in response to growing consumer demand.

Back in April, we analyzed how grocery stores were faring at the start of COVID-19. Now, we are taking a closer look at four leading grocery stores, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, and Publix, to see how foot traffic has changed through June 2020.

Is Foot Traffic Recovering at Grocery Stores?

Foot traffic remained typical through February and early March, until a foot traffic spike occurred around March 13. This was most likely due to consumers stocking up on essentials in preparation for stay-at-home orders. Traffic at all supermarkets continued to decline through the end of March and into April, reaching its lowest point in mid-April. Daily foot traffic then began to increase for all brands through May, before leveling off in June.

Holidays Still Increase Grocery Store Foot Traffic

Holidays continue to fuel foot traffic to grocery stores: Super Bowl LIV, Valentine’s Day and Easter all generated additional foot traffic. Unlike other stores, Publix chose to stay closed during Easter, which explains its significant decline on April 12. Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day also caused spikes in foot traffic, albeit to a lesser extent. This shows that consumers are still going in-store to purchase last-minute flowers and gifts, or to pick up groceries or catering in preparation for at-home celebrations and observances.

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Specialty Grocers Seeing Slower Recovery

While all the supermarket brands we examined have been impacted by COVID-19, Safeway and Publix have recovered more foot traffic than other brands. For the week of June 14, foot traffic to Safeway and Publix was 28% and 26% lower, respectively, than for the week of February 2. For comparison, foot traffic to Whole Foods remained 44% lower. Safeway and Publix are often seen as more cost-effective grocery stores than Whole Foods or Wegman’s. This could indicate that consumers in the post-COVID-19 economy are more price-conscious than before.

However, while foot traffic is an important indicator, it doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer consumers are shopping at Whole Foods and Wegman’s. Less foot traffic in store could be a reflection of consumers opting to use new curbside and delivery services. Regular Whole Foods customers, for example, might be purchasing their groceries through Amazon instead. Consumers might simply be less familiar with Publix, Safeway, and Wegman’s curbside pickup and delivery services, making them more inclined to go into the store. While convenience isn’t a new consumer behavior trend, it is becoming more prominent as stores find new ways to give consumers a safer shopping experience, and consumers become more familiar with these services.

Using Foot Traffic Analytics for Consumer Behavior Insights

Businesses can use foot traffic analytics to get insight into consumer behavior and to understand how their business is performing compared to the competition. Customer insights derived from location intelligence can also inform businesses on how to reconnect with their customers. By learning about customer preferences and habits, businesses can adjust their digital marketing strategies, and product or service offerings, in order to increase foot traffic, sales, and customer retention. To learn more, book a meeting with us today.


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