COVID-19’s impact on store traffic

Altered shopping patterns increase the need for retailer transparency
Mia Weinand
Communications and Public Affairs
August 7, 2020

While retailers navigate operating during a pandemic, it can be difficult to know what to expect as the health crisis continues. To help businesses think through all the factors, ShopperTrak and NRF hosted “The Retail Recovery: Store Traffic and COVID-19 as part of the Operation Open Doors webinar series.

ShopperTrak brand experts Amy Shulman, global head for professional services, Brian Field, senior director for global retail consulting, and Peter McCall, senior manager for retail consulting, joined NRF Senior Director for Industry and Consumer Insights Katherine Cullen for a conversation on foot traffic trends and what they mean for U.S. retailers as they reopen.

NRF Calls For Mask Policy

Read more on the importance of masks in retail here.

Field opened the discussion by explaining that U.S. retail traffic began to decrease long before stay-at-home orders went into place. Despite cases being fairly low, events such as the COVID-19 diagnoses of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson and sports beginning to suspend games for the season led to the drop in store visits.

Stories like this brought the COVID-19 crisis closer to home and led Americans to begin social distancing and reducing shopping trips. While traffic has begun to rise again over the past few months, there will most likely be variability moving forward. With active cases in the United States in a state of flux, store traffic can be expected to do the same.

While shopping used to be a form of entertainment and leisure, it has become transactional and intentional. This is reflected in consumers’ shopping patterns, which now involve a larger basket size, lower trip frequency, shorter distance traveled and weekday shopping rather than weekend.

According to ShopperTrak, the products purchased are evolving as well. Winning categories include apparel and accessories, wireless electronics and general merchandise. The top category is home goods, with U.S. sales up 65 percent.

The big lesson? Consumers’ newfound intentionality has made inventory accuracy and transparent rules of engagement more important than ever. Customers don’t like it when they believe an item is in stock, only to find it isn’t when arriving at the store. In an environment where leaving the house could quite literally mean risking your life, that disconnect could cause a business to lose a customer forever.

Shoppers also need to understand the protocols before visiting a store, such as if masks are required, if there is a capacity limit, if the store needs a customer’s information for contact tracing, etc. Transparency is key to customers’ safety and loyalty. Retailers must ensure they are doing everything they can to have an open and honest relationship with consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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