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Why Foot Traffic at Walmart & Target Has Fallen Despite Heightened Demand

Foot traffic at big-box chains is falling after surging in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Placer.ai.

The foot traffic analytics platform found that Walmart, Target, Costco and Sam’s Club all saw “significant growth” in weekly visits compared to 2019 when the coronavirus crisis initially hit the U.S., with a peak coming in mid-March. But traffic began to dip over the last two weeks of March. Traffic for the fourth week of March and first week of April was down by more than 30% at Target and by over 20% at Walmart.

Weekly foot traffic, placer ai
Weekly traffic patterns for February, March and April 2020 compared to corresponding periods in 2019.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Despite these declines, Placer.ai VP of marketing Ethan Chernofsky says there may be cause for “cautious optimism,” as foot traffic may have hit its “new normal” as of the first week of April, leading to more stable patterns. Across Walmart stores nationwide, traffic stayed relatively flat, falling by just 1.1% between the last week of March and the first week of April. Target and Costco saw minor declines of 2.5% and 3.3%, respectively.

“Declines have leveled off significantly, and in some areas, there has even been growth week over week. This certainly doesn’t mean that a return to full retail normalcy is around the corner, but should more stable patterns hold, we may have a sense of the [new traffic] floor brands like this will experience,” he wrote.

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Further, according to Chernofsky, drops in traffic may be partly attributable to “self-imposed restrictions” by Walmart, Target and Costco and “stricter social distancing measures.” With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising people keep a distance of at least 6 feet from one another, Walmart, Target and Costco all implemented restrictions in April to limit store traffic and encourage social distancing.

Walmart is allowing a maximum of five customers per 1,000 square feet, which is about 20% of any given store’s capacity. Meanwhile, Target has begun to actively monitor and limit shopper traffic across its outposts. The retailer has also started providing face masks and gloves to its store associates and distribution center workers. And Costco updated its policy to temporarily allow only two people per membership card to enter its stores. The wholesaler normally allows members to bring two guests, in addition to their children.

Although the coronavirus crisis has hit the retail sector hard, big-box and grocery stores have seen increased demand for certain household goods, leading to mass hiring at Walmart, Costco and Amazon at a time when a record number of jobs are being shed elsewhere.

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