Winners are emerging in the battle for foot traffic among food retailers

By now, we've all seen the mass exodus from restaurants to grocery stores. But are there any trends or winners that emerge when looking at specific regions or specific retailers?

The chart below shows, by region, the percent of visits made to retail channels (grocery, club, mass, dollar, and c-store) as a percentage of total food industry visits (which also includes restaurants). This chart also includes the national average, represented by the gray dotted line.

retail-traffic-by-region

Based on our four census-defined regions, each region of the United States is experiencing the channel shift towards retail at a roughly similar rate day over day.

Slight skews have emerged - early on, the West and Midwest were the first regions where people were shifting away from restaurants and towards food retailers. Nonetheless, every region is following generally the same pattern of the shift towards retail channels for food purchases.

We surveyed consumers to find out why they were choosing food retail channels over restaurants.

why-retail-not-restaurant

Even if total foot traffic gains by retailers is plateauing, this may be more a reflection of fewer visits per member of the household and consumers having plenty in stock from previous trips, as evidenced by the growing reference below to getting through existing food supply.

This would suggest that we may see another wave of food-retail-visitors soon, when people need to restock. Given some of our previous findings about how consumers changing their habits during COVID-19 may sustain them afterwards, it will be critically important for retailers to win that next wave of stock-up shopping.

We also examined, on an individual retailer basis, who's performing well or not based on their share of foot traffic within the food retail market. The chart below shows a sample of the brands for whom we have foot traffic data; if you are curious about traffic for brands not shown here, please contact us.

retail-final

Some of the top performers have been brands like Dollar General, who is up significantly year over year. Additionally, national retailers like Walmart and Kroger are increasing share while strong regional players like HEB and Publix, likely due to their strong community connections and trustworthiness. Some of the decliners year over year have been Target, Circle K, 7-Eleven, Quik Trip, and Speedway.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that sales are also up to the same extent as traffic is for each of these retailers.  Nonetheless, as far as a foot traffic perspective is concerned, the things that stand out to us as considerations for these retailers are around patterns of value. Who's competitive right now on having low prices?

Additionally, assortment is an important factor to consider - who is carrying the variety and the types of products that can meet all shopping needs, as opposed to more niche categories and items that are not worth the trip? Shoppers are consolidating trips, not wanting to potentially expose themselves to infection unnecessarily, so retailers that have broader assortment are winning right now. 

Another potential factor is the retailer footprint; some retailers are likely benefiting from being more focused in parts of the country less-impacted by social distancing, or weren't impacted as quickly. Additionally, urbanicity could impact the over- or under-performance of some of these retailers.

Another factor is that the occasions for which people make in-person visits are related to activities that are in decline too. For instance, there are fewer gas fill-ups occurring, which also means there are fewer occasions to enter the convenience store.

If you're interested in surveys or unblinded behavioral insights for your brand and your competitors, watch the 4-minute video below to learn more about Sense360's COVID-19 Tracker.