Retail foot traffic is picking up, but shoppers are still cautious

Pedestrian traffic reaches just 30% below 2019 levels

Retail foot traffic is picking up, but shoppers are still cautious
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Between holiday shopping and a slow return to the office, downtown districts across the country notched slight boosts in foot traffic.

Pedestrian traffic in US downtowns continued to strengthen in November, marking the greatest monthly improvement in pedestrian traffic so far in 2021, according to data firm Springboard. The figure is 30 percent down from the 2019 level, but represents a slight bump from 38 percent down from October.

The boost was reflected in New York City, where pedestrian traffic reached 31 percent below the 2019 level. In October that number was at negative 41 percent.

The greatest increase was seen during the breakfast period, when employees would typically be heading into their places of work, but have since been freed up by remote work policies. The percentage during this time of day hit negative 33 percent by the end of the month.

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According to Springboard, 25 percent of the survey’s 1,500 respondents work from home full-time while another 24 percent work remotely some days a week. The split between working arrangements has remained consistent for months.

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The pandemic accelerated e-commerce as customers stayed home from stores, and survey respondents appeared to still be wary of in-person shopping.

A separate Springboard report found only 31 percent of consumers feel completely comfortable visiting shopping malls, downtowns or shopping centers, a slight boost from 26 percent in October. Additionally, 18 percent of consumers said they hadn’t shopped in person in the past month.

The change in habits may have some implications for the holidays. Fifty-six percent of consumers said they intend to purchase around half of their Christmas gifts and seasonal purchases in store and 28 percent said they intend to purchase three quarters of these items in store. Just 36 percent say they intend to shop mostly online.

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