The slow but steady traffic acceleration that brick-and-mortar retailers were starting to enjoy amid state re-openings is starting to flounder under the weight of rising COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the country.
According to new data from Placer.ai, a data tracking service, department stores Macy’s, JCPenney and Dillard’s are beginning to see a reversal of promising traffic trends — with states such as Arizona, Texas and Florida having reported rising coronavirus numbers in recent weeks.
Macy’s had already started off 2020 with mixed traffic numbers, according to Placer, with year-over-over visits down 0.9% in January 0.9% but up 6.4% for February. As expected, when the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold in the U.S. in March — and government as well as state restrictions mandated the temporary closures of nonessential businesses — visits dropped to 62.7% and continued to decline into April before “bottoming out” completely. When May rolled around, Macy’s traffic had tumbled 88.2%.
But, as hard-hit coronavirus states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut started to see a so-called “flattening curve,” and many states forged ahead with phased reopening plans, Macy’s store visits in June improved and were down 56.1% year over year while July visits pulled closest to 2019 levels, down just 44%.
“While visits for June and July are certainly better than those during the prior months, traffic seems to be plateauing — a trend that has been felt across the apparel sector as COVID resurgences hit key states like California, Florida and Texas,” Placer noted in the report.
A similar trend is being observed at department stores Dillard’s and JCPenney — that latter filed for bankruptcy in May as its ongoing financial and leadership struggles were compounded by the health crisis.
JCPenney stores recorded their steepest traffic declines in April, with traffic down nearly 100% — likely because stores in most states were required to go dark — but was enjoying a steady recovery in June, hitting a high point on the week of June 15 and pulling traffic within 27 % of 2019 numbers. More recently, store visits have been on the decline, tripping to a low point on the week of July 20th with visits down 46.9%.
Dillards, meanwhile, was seeing traffic gains of 6.6% in February before the pandemic swept across the country. Its visits flatlined in April before both May and June saw traffic move closer to pre-pandemic levels, said the report.
Notably, with most of its stores located in Texas and Florida — both states reopened earlier than much of the U.S. — Dillard’s appeared to sidestep the flatlining that its department store peers saw in May. Still, as those very states experience coronavirus spikes, Placer suggests Dillard’s could be at risk for a significant pullback in traffic.
“The brand’s recovery pace is falling off, or plateauing, from its initial traffic rush after being allowed to reopen,” said the report. “Although visits were just 26.7% down for the week of June 15, the closest to 2019 levels, traffic has continued to decline since then.”
In fact, visits for the weeks of July 13 and July 20 generated “some of the lowest traffic across the weeks measured,” tumbling 44.7% year over year each time, indicates the report.