Checking in with the Urban Retail Recovery

Checking in with the Urban Retail Recovery

For most weeks of the second half of 2021, nationwide weekly retail foot traffic has been up or equivalent to 2019 levels. But as hybrid work and migration shifts keeps urban occupancy down and travel restrictions continue to limit tourism, some major cities are still feeling the pandemic’s impact.

Retail Foot Traffic in America’s Largest Cities 

Clearly, some cities have been more affected than others. Of the four major cities analyzed, New York City – where the retail sector relies heavily on tourists and office workers – suffered the heaviest blow. While summer retail foot traffic was almost back to pre-pandemic levels, with July visits comparable to 2019 levels, NYC retail foot traffic dipped back down in August and has remained below pre-COVID levels ever since. Los Angeles also saw Yo2Y retail growth down for most of 2021 – perhaps due to the high numbers of Californians moving to inland and mountain communities over the past year.

The situation looked slightly rosier in Chicago and Houston. While the Yo2Y visit gap in those cities did grow in September – likely a result of the spread of the Delta variant – retail visits quickly bounced back. October retail foot traffic in both cities was 1% higher than it had been in 2019, and despite a small decline in November – likely due to the demise of Black Friday – December retail visits rose right back to pre-pandemic levels.

Diving into Leading Retailers’ Regional Performance 

But behind the overall retail visit numbers lies a more complicated reality. 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. We dived into the DMA data for each of the four cities analyzed to understand how different retailers were performing regionally. 

Target, which has shown strength all year, performed well in all four cities analyzed but performed best in the Big Apple – even though year-over-two-year (Yo2Y) retail visits in New York were lower than in the other three cities. Planet Fitness Yo2Y monthly visits in Q4 were also up every month in NYC, despite the overall fitness downturn. And Starbucks in New York also overperformed compared to the Starbucks national average, even though many offices in the city have yet to hit full occupancy

In Los Angeles, Starbucks saw Yo2Y visit increases but still underperformed its nationwide average – perhaps due to the rise of Dunkin’ on the West Coast. Target foot traffic also increased in LA compared to 2019 but remained below the nationwide average, which may be attributed to the popularity of Walmart in Tinseltown. And despite Californians’ well-known interest in fitness, October visits to Planet Fitness actually decreased by 0.9% compared to 2019 – but skyrocketed again in November and December to outperform the nationwide average. 

Chicago, which has seen the strongest retail recovery of the four cities 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. 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, has seen its visits to Target and Planet Fitness skyrocket and overperform the nationwide average – while visits to Starbucks have been growing a little slower. 

As the data here shows, 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. 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. 

Want to dive deeper into Target, Planet Fitness, and Starbucks’ nationwide performances?

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