The Effect of COVID-19 on U.S. Consumer Shopping

U.S. Consumer Shopping & Social Distancing

Using aggregated and pseudonymized location data, Gravy Analytics examined the effect of COVID-19 on U.S. consumer shopping behavior.

Mobile location data, when aggregated and pseudonymized, can provide rich insight into consumer activity. When location signals generated by a mobile device are observed at a place of interest, we know that a unique visit occurred. This makes it possible to understand the places people go, and to infer their priorities, interests, or intent. 

Every day, Gravy captures mobile consumer visits to millions of public places. These places are organized into thousands of discrete categories, each of which represents thousands, or tens-of-thousands, of similar business locations. Categorization enables us to analyze consumer activity at many thousands of similar places around the country and learn more about how people engage with a category or industry overall.

We’ve already found that total foot traffic declined across most industries in the U.S. as a result of social distancing and COVID-19, and this made a big impact on consumer shopping behavior. As of March 25, daily device visits to Accommodations, Transportation, Services and Shopping destinations have decreased by up to 76%. We decided to take a closer look at a selection of Shopping subcategories – Box Stores, Department Stores, Food, Home Building and Improvement, Pharmacy, and Wholesale – to see what we could learn about shopper engagement.

For this data analysis, we compared daily device visits for each category in March to average, same day-of-week visits for the category during February. This is what we discovered:

Consumer Visits to Retailers

Daily device visits in all categories were all about average until March 9, when consumer shopping behavior began to change in the U.S. due to COVID-19.

Daily Device Visits - Shopping
The Effect of COVID-19 on U.S. Consumer Shopping


Foot traffic to Wholesalers was 115% higher than average by March 12, and remained well above average through March 20. At the same time, daily device visits to Home Building and Improvement stores remained comparatively stable and closer to average throughout the entire month of March.

Daily Device Visits - Home Improvement & Wholesale


Foot traffic at Food and Pharmacy stores followed a very similar pattern. Both categories were slightly below average in terms of daily device traffic through March 11. Foot traffic increased on March 12 and peaked on March 13; visits to Food stores remained higher than average through March 17. 

The Effect of COVID-19 on U.S. Consumer Shopping


Daily device visits to Box Stores and Department Stores remained slightly below average until mid-March. Foot traffic peaked on March 12 and 13, before dropping precipitously over the following days. Beginning March 21, however, daily device visits to Box Stores and Department Stores began to stabilize.

Daily Device Visits - Shopping

Visits to Retailers as of March 31

Places like Department or Box Stores, which offer more discretionary purchases, saw the biggest drop in daily device visits. In contrast, Wholesalers capitalized on many consumers’ need to stock up in preparation for upcoming quarantine or shelter-in-place orders. Foot traffic to Home Improvement stores was comparatively less changed, either serving the construction trade or bringing in homeowners with ample time to tackle their home improvement projects.

The Effect of COVID-19 on U.S. Consumer Shopping

Will U.S. Consumer Shopping Trends Continue to Change with COVID-19?

How have your shopping habits changed as a result of COVID-19? What could location data and location-derived insights tell you about shopping and other consumer behavior, and how it is changing in response to social distancing and COVID-19 in the U.S.? Sign up for our weekly newsletter for more ideas, or just let us know.

You can keep up-to-date on U.S. foot traffic patterns for leading brands as COVID-19 continues to change our economy by visiting our free-to-access interactive dashboards.

Economic Activity by: U.S. City | U.S. State | Category

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