September 2022 Analysis: A Difficult Month and Time for Optimism

There was hope that September could provide a needed breath of fresh air for brick-and-mortar retail. An easier comparison to a more challenging month in 2021 and hopes for dissipating economic headwinds gave a sense that the month could provide a needed shift.

So, with the month in the books, where does offline retail stand?

A Tough September

Looking at visits year-over-year (YoY) shows that September did mark a significant step forward for many retail segments. The restaurant, superstore, home improvement, and grocery categories all saw the visit gap with 2021 shrink compared to the previous month. Discount & dollar stores saw visits return to YoY growth, and Fitness continued its impressive streak with visits up 19.1% compared to September 2021.

While this step forward is important, it does require context. 

Brick-and-mortar chains were challenged in September 2021 by the rise of the Delta variant, making the comparison easier than in July or August. And though September 2022’s successes are still significant considering the unique array of challenges that retail is currently facing, a comparison to a pre-COVID 2019 presents a key piece of the story – and indicates that the retail environment is certainly not fully recovered.

Time for Optimism? 

But there are real signs that the next stage of recovery is underway and the timing could not be better.

Looking at these same industries’ visit trends week-over-week (WoW) shows a strong push across the board, with visit rates increasing in late September and early October. This is important, as one of the more effective tactics retailers leveraged in 2021 was extending the holiday shopping season earlier – and the WoW visit increases offer an early indication that shoppers may be gearing up for this practice in 2022 as well. And should the extended holiday season prove profitable once again, it could be buttressed by a more successful shopping season peak – or at least one not as heavily limited by COVID.

The same message comes through when looking at weekly YoY visits, where segments like superstores, home improvement, and grocery are seeing consistent steps forward, while others like discount & dollar are holding steady. The hope is that value-oriented deals driven by excess stock, a timely excuse to shop, and dissipating headwinds combine to create a more ideal retail environment in the coming months.

Continued Recovery Signs 

And the signs of recovery continue to shine through when diving a level deeper. Looking at weekly visits to retail giants Target and Walmart and weekly foot traffic for Placer.ai’s Indoor Mall Index shows a similar pattern. Indoor Malls have shown a strong return from an early September valley while Target and Walmart are both seeing consistent patterns of YoY growth in weekly visits.

If key retail formats such as malls along with the country’s top retailers can maintain this trend in the coming months, 2022 could see a strong ending that serves as the converse to its challenging start.

Will retail’s recovery continue into November? Visit Placer.ai to find out.

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