Less Restricted States: Coronavirus Impact

With tightening restrictions nationwide, Wholesale and Mass Merchandise traffic is seeing major declines. But are states with partial to no stay-at-home orders experiencing similar traffic patterns as those heavily hit by coronavirus? 

We dove into the less impacted regions of the U.S. to examine the traffic patterns and the lessons they may hold. 

Similar Target Trends

Comparing four states without any mandatory stay-at-home orders (Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) to two states with partial stay-at-home orders (Utah and Oklahoma), alongside a heavily locked down New York, we see similar traffic trends for Target. 

All regions experienced a spike in traffic the second week of March, followed by extreme dips. While surprisingly, New York had the lowest year-over-year decrease for the second week of March, 21.6% as compared to the 30.9% to 41.3% decrease in the other states, it doubled its losses the following week while the others saw decreases that leveled off. Most states continued to level off into the third week of March, with minor decreases, and Iowa, Oklahoma and New York even started improving into the first week of April. 

The widespread, and nearly equivalent downturn, speaks to both Target’s self-imposed restrictions and the fact that the brand is less associated with grocery when compared with Walmart.

Walmart Winners 

Looking at Walmart reveals a mixed picture. While six of the states analyzed show unprecedented peaks the second week of March followed by major drops, the magnitudes of the traffic declines are different and worth noting. 

Iowa managed to sustain slight positive year-over-year growth into the third week of March, followed by the inevitable dips the following weeks, led also by Walmart’s self-imposed limitations. But both Iowa and Oklahoma chains saw smaller year-over-year decreases than the rest of the group, all in the 7% to 11% range. Utah was the only state that experienced a stronger fourth week of March than the previous week, followed by a slight dip the first week of April as a result of newly introduced state restrictions. 

Still, Iowa, Oklahoma and Utah Walmarts seem to be the most resilient during this time. And while Nebraska and North Dakota’s downward trend continues into April, the rest of the states, including New York, have nearly leveled off. 

Wholesale Strength

Looking at Sam’s Club, the regional differences and wholesale’s continued strength during the coronavirus become most apparent. Not including the Dakotas, which have too few locations to analyze, all states show enormous year-over-year traffic growth the second week of March. New York’s peak of 65.6% is actually the lowest in the group, with Utah leading at 80% year-over-year growth. Even going into the third week of March, all states show positive year-over-year growth, though much of this is related to Sam’s Club’s general resurgence in the last few quarters.

Traffic inevitably dips the final week of March, with New York being the hardest hit. Utah managed to sustain positive year-over-year growth into the third week of March. As restrictions were implemented, it finally dipped into the first week of April, with a 11.6% decrease in traffic year over year. 

Interestingly, Iowa and Nebraska managed to get back to positive growth the first week of April, perhaps as a result of a perceived need to stock up before potential stay-at-home measures were introduced. Both New York and Oklahoma seem to have reached their “floor,” with a stronger performing first week of April as compared to the last week of March. 


Unsurprisingly, the data does not lead to a uniform conclusion when it comes to the low-impact states. Yet, it’s clearly important to continue monitoring them as their response to the pandemic evolves. Obviously, different retailers in different parts of the country will be affected differently. A variety of factors, from population distribution, to number of cases, to when and which coronavirus measures are introduced will affect how this situation unfolds. And this is critical for planning for the rebound.

Will states with little to no restrictions rebound faster? Or will they suffer from even greater traffic dips further down the line? With the potential for phased returns, the implications could be enormous.

As always, we will continue to provide insights into this situation at the Placer.ai blog.

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