State of Retail Shopping: Consumer Shopping Trends during COVID-19

State of Retail Shopping: Consumer Shopping Trends during COVID

Many may assume that brick and mortar foot traffic would have been non-existent during the lockdown and over the course of 2020. This is, interestingly enough, a common misconception. Maybe it was the need to shop for necessities, or the desire to get out of the house, or maybe a dislike of buying groceries and items online, but one thing is certain: not everyone was burrowed in their homes 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

Let’s take a look at what visitors to retail stores were up to during the COVID-19 quarantine and beyond, starting in March 2020.

Shopping Before COVID-19 Lockdowns

During the early rumblings of the mysterious virus that was about to ruin everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions, the foot traffic data tells us that a lot of consumers were already beginning to scale back in their outings. Starting in March, we begin to see declining foot traffic numbers as the media begins focusing on the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in the U.S. 

For example, foot traffic to shopping centers, pet stores, and malls was 30% lower in March when compared to February’s numbers. Bookstores were 40% lower and department stores were 43% below pre-COVID levels. Yet, foot traffic to wholesale stores like Costco and BJ’s were 2% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and foot traffic to food stores and discount stores were  13% and 14% lower respectively when compared to February. 

What does this tell us about our pre-COVID-19 data? Clearly, shoppers had toilet-paper and savings on their minds. No, but really. March marked the beginning of the infamous toilet-paper gate and general panic buying. Has anyone figured out why this happened? When we have Amazon Prime and grocery delivery, why did consumers act like preparing for a pandemic necessitated the same panic-buying behavior as preparing for a hurricane? No matter what the answer is for this, the simple fact remains that consumers were prepping for the worst-case scenario as the unknown was heading our way with a force to be reckoned with. 

Shopping During COVID-19 Lockdowns

Consumer shopping behavior, especially during April, is fascinating yet slightly predictable considering what March looked like. All non-essential stores saw the biggest changes in foot traffic like department stores and bookstores. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t shopping for crafting supplies and the next top book series, though. If anything, consumers were craving those items more as a means of escape from the constant negative news cycle. For example, according to a recent New York Times article on book sales during the pandemic, “Some categories, like digital audio… seemed almost pandemic-proof, with a jump of 15 percent…Somewhat surprisingly, e-book revenues dropped by nearly 5 percent, and print revenues grew by more than 1 percent.”

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the retailers that saw the most foot traffic during this time. Quite unexpectedly, hardware and home improvement stores saw the least impact in foot traffic when compared to February’s numbers. We would think that wholesale stores and grocery stores would still be in the lead here, but our numbers tell us otherwise. Why the sudden home-improvement spike? Several factors could be at play here: 

  • Shopping for home-office supplies and furniture
  • Boredom (seriously.)
  • The need to improve the space that they’re constantly in.

State of Retail Shopping After COVID-19 Lockdown

The word “after” is subjective, especially considering the city or state that you may be reading this from. For us, the post-lockdown phase is left to the foot traffic data. Starting in May, we begin to see significant changes in foot traffic for certain types of retail, such as discount stores and wholesalers. . Those types of retailers only continued to outperform others as the summer months started with the promise of warmth and better days. 


When analyzing the foot traffic data for the summer months, the leaders in terms of foot-traffic numbers were food stores, discount stores, and sports. These numbers aren’t all that surprising; the advance of food shoppers could easily account for the increased demand for grocery delivery services. Discount stores likely became more appealing as people faced economic hardships or were simply being more careful with their money. Foot traffic to sports retail stores was 1% lower in July than in February, for example, and this could be as a result of the need for at-home fitness equipment. Or, perhaps it was as a result of consumers looking for adventure in the great outdoors versus a shopping mall or arcade.


We begin to see these shifts again in foot traffic across categories in retail beginning in September when news of a potential second wave was on the horizon. As the cooler months set in and people began burrowing in their nests again, foot traffic to wholesale –interestingly– art supply stores was lower when compared to February’s numbers. Another fascinating thing to note here is the significant shift in foot traffic for food and discount shopping stores. 

The categories most impacted in terms of foot traffic were bookstores and jewelry. However, when we consider that shoppers can buy books and jewelry online, this isn’t too surprising. 

Predicting Winter Shopping Trends

Location Intelligence is a great solution for companies looking to analyze the economic state of the world. By analyzing 2020’s foot traffic data for the shopping category, we were able to catch a glimpse of where consumer’s priorities were during the lockdown and beyond.

For more foot traffic information in a range of industries, check out our economic activity dashboards. Also, be sure to request a free copy of our latest data report.

Talk with a Gravy Analytics sales representative to learn how location intelligence can benefit your business.

Scroll to Top