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US Downtown Retail Traffic Continues to Improve in March, But Could Dip as Inflation Worsens

Retail traffic in downtown areas across the U.S. continue to see improvement in March.

According to new numbers from retail analytics firm Springboard, the gap from 2019 pre-pandemic traffic levels is narrowing by a fifth to -29.6% from -34.9% in February. This was driven by a month over month increase of +25.1% from February which followed a +20.9% rise from January to February.

Springboard, which gathers it data from more than 44 million pedestrian traffic counts a week at 2,160 counting points in 1,100 shopping locations, also reported that the gap from 2019 is now virtually at the level recorded in December 2021 of -29.1%. The firm stated in the report that this increase in traffic is likely to have been supported by the lifting of the vaccine mandate for entering venues which will have made it easier for more consumers to visit downtowns.

As Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said in the report, this increase in March was also largely driven by employees returning to the office as well as the benefit of St. Patrick’s Day driving more foot traffic to downtown areas.

“As this was the first opportunity for downtowns to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day since 2019, many laid on celebrations which led to pedestrian traffic increasing by +18.2% during the week of St. Patrick’s Day from the week before, more than three times the average uplift over the previous two weeks,” said Wehrle. On St. Patrick’s Day itself, Wehrle added that downtown traffic was +12.6% higher than on the same day in the previous week and +1.4% higher than on the same day in 2019.

While these numbers are promising for a “return to normal,” Wehrle also warned that data from March may only be the “calm before the storm” and only offers retailers some “short term good news.”

“The substantial increase in energy and fuel prices and the concomitant rise in inflation will put household budgets under increasing pressure,” Wehrle stated. “This will mean less disposable income and so some retail spending will be curtailed, particularly as we enter the summer period when many consumers will be looking to reserve budget to spend on much longed for summer vacations.”

Soaring inflation has been a concern for months now, but this news follows last week’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which stated that consumer prices rose by 8.5% in March compared with a year ago. This number was up from the 7.9% growth in February and represented the highest inflation rate since the 12-month period ending in December 1981.

As for footwear. prices grew 6.6% in March, year over year, according to data from the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA). This marks the third-fastest year over year increase in about 33 years, trailing behind February’s 7% increase and May’s 7.1% increase.

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