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Tuning Into Record Stores

by 
Ezra Carmel
 on 
April 4, 2023
Tuning Into Record Stores

Over the decades, the music industry has undergone significant advances in playback technology. Today, streaming is the predominant medium for listeners, but other seemingly obsolete ways to enjoy music are making a comeback. In 2022, the sale of vinyl records in the United States grew for the seventeenth consecutive year and their sales outpaced CDs for the second year in a row. To better understand the phenomenon, we dove into traffic metrics and visitor demographics for approximately 70 record stores nationwide to see what’s driving the current vinyl music trend.

Vinyl Goes Viral

Record store foot traffic had been finding its groove long before the pandemic. But during the initial COVID lockdowns, demand for vinyl records hit fast-forward as music lovers looked for new ways to enjoy their favorite tracks while stuck at home. Many music fans invested in sound systems that could play records, likely as part of living space and home theater upgrades driven by more time spent at home.

Analysis of foot traffic to record stores since January 2018 shows that visits were steadily climbing prior to the pandemic and – like most retail categories – took a dive during the initial lockdowns. But by August 2020, record store foot traffic had regained significant ground – nearly matching January 2018 levels. And by the end of 2020, visits had well surpassed that benchmark. 

Since the second half of 2021, record store foot traffic has climbed even higher, and continued to exceed pre-pandemic levels significantly.

Keeping the Beat

For nine of the last 12 months, record stores have sustained year-over-year (YoY) visit growth – particularly impressive considering the robust foot traffic of 2021. Even though record store foot traffic was down YoY in October and November of 2022, the dip reflects comparisons to the previous year’s strength rather than any waning demand for record stores. In December 2022, for example, vinyl sales reached record highs, even though foot traffic barely outperformed a strong December 2021. And in January and February of 2023, foot traffic was ahead of 2022 levels by significant margins. 

In the Hands of Young Fans

Although enjoying music transcends all ages, Gen-Z and millennial visitors seem to be driving the recent surge in record store foot traffic. The two best-selling records of 2022 were Taylor Swift’s Midnights and Harry Styles’ Harry’s House – two artists that are highly popular with this age group. And while some younger fans enjoy listening to a physical record, many don’t even own a record player. This is perhaps unsurprising since Gen-Z and millennial vinyl buyers grew up in the era of CDs and streaming. For consumers without record players and potentially many with, vinyls are about investing in a collection, enjoying album art, and supporting their favorite artists, rather than facilitating a specific listening experience. 

Location intelligence also indicates that record store visitors skew young. The Trade Area Analysis – taking into account 70% of visits within 50 miles of a venue – for some of the most highly visited record stores in the country revealed that their potential markets in 2022 had a median age significantly lower than the national benchmark. This indicates that while record stores are popular with a range of ages, the younger demographic is likely driving much of the recent foot traffic surge. 

For the Record

Demand for vinyl records is stronger than it has been in recent history and is driving significant foot traffic to record stores. Though the album format is nothing new, the excitement surrounding owning physical records is pushing record store visits to new heights. Many young fans are discovering the charm of owning a physical record which sometimes runs deeper than the music itself. 

For updates and more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit Placer.ai.

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