Welcome to the 11th edition of the PlaceIQ Social Distance Tracker. 

Today we’re going to take a deeper look at grocery stores. As we’ve frequently noted in prior editions of this Tracker, visits aren’t just down…they’re different. Grocery visits are no exception. Our shelter-in-place situation has us visiting the grocery store less often, buying more, spending more time shopping, and staying especially close to home. With no commutes or offices to constrain us, we take advantage of morning hours and visit throughout the week.

Grocery delivery is harder to reveal in foot traffic data, but its growth is present in several of the figures we’ll examine.

Hungry for a deeper dive on the grocery category?  Be on the lookout for details regarding our Special Topic: Grocery webinar – save the date for May 13th!  

We are gratified to see our analyses being included in various reports, since it is our goal to contribute to the #dataforgood effort. If you choose to re-use one of our analysis, all we ask is that you attribute the analysis or content to PlaceIQ. Thank you!

Grocery Shopping in the Time of COVID-19

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far about our changing grocery behaviors.

With less schedule constraints, visits are more evenly distributed throughout the day.

CHART: Trader Joe's: Share of Traffic by Hour, Monday-Friday

For similar reasons, visits are more likely to be distributed throughout the week, not heavily tilted towards the weekend.

CHART: The Pre-Covid Weekday Foot Traffic Routine and The Shelter-in-Place Foot Traffic Routine

Customers are making less frequent trips to grocery stores, likely to better shelter-in-place and/or avoid the hectic nature of many stores.

 

Weekly Visitation Frequency Average: Seattle, WA

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CHART: Weekly Visitation Frequency Average: Seattle, WA

Produced by PlaceIQ, 4/7/2020 

But they’re spending more time at grocery stores, likely due to waiting in metered lines and/or buying more items once they’re inside. (Our partners at IRI have produced an excellent report which details increased spending on food in retail.)

Median Visit Duration, Minutes: Grocery Stores

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CHART: Median Visit Duration, Minutes: Grocery Stores

Produced by PlaceIQ, 4/9/2020 

Without daily commutes and social outings, consumers are staying close to home.

Change in Median Distance Traveled (km) by Category

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CHART: Change in Median Distance Traveled (km) by Category

Produced by PlaceIQ, 4/7/2020 

I’m sure we can all relate to many of these trends. At our house, we plan further in advance and keep a continual tally of what we need so we can knock out 2-3 weeks of needs with one trip. We budget additional time to wait outside and we’ve gotten to know when traffic is lowest and shift our schedules accordingly. 

I’d wager many readers can relate because grocery foot traffic continues to look similar across regions, unlike the trends we saw in fast food earlier this week:

CHART: % Change in Foot Traffic Volume to Grocery Stores vs. Pre-COVID Norms, by DMA, 7-Day Moving Average
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Aside from the major outlier that is the New York greater metropolitan area, traffic trends remain tightly clustered throughout the Quarantine Routine. This is in stark contrast to what we saw for fast food:

CHART: % Change in Foot Traffic Volume to Fast Food Dining vs. Pre-COVID Norms, by DMA, 7-Day Moving Average
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Our current interpretation of these contrasting trends is that people are and have been grocery shopping consistently throughout the Quarantine Routine. Any reopening or reemergence in local markets will not directly drive up grocery visits. Rather, consumers will have to unlearn their bulk-buying behaviors before there’s even a need for more visits.  

Further, a reemergence of restaurant dining could further increase the time between grocery trips. We’ve already seen the inverse happen during the Quarantine Routine: larger purchase volumes mean people wait longer before dining out:

Median Days Between Visiting a Store and a Restaurant

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CHART: Median Days Between Visiting a Store and a Restaurant

Produced by PlaceIQ, 4/29/2020 

Pre-COVID, we generally saw consumers wait less than 3 days before dining out after a grocery trip. Post-COVID that duration is up 20%. It is not unreasonable to expect more restaurant visits could delay the return trip to grocery stores (especially with shoppers continuing to purchase frozen fare at higher rates, as IRI notes).

Wrapping up, let’s detail the qualities of the post-COVID grocery shopper:

  • They shop less frequently and buy more.
  • They spend more time at the store, often waiting.
  • They shop throughout the day and week, with a more flexible routine.
  • They stay extremely close to home.
  • They cook more at home and put off eating out.

 

All in all, we’re seeing patterns consistent with a consumer who plans further ahead and makes more conscious trips to the store. Fill-in trips, those drop-ins to grab a missing ingredient or splurge on ice cream for dessert that night, are in rare supply. Before visit volumes return to pre-COVID norms we will have to wait for the grocery shopping experience to become less stressful (fewer lines, more reliable inventory, less perceived risk of contagion) and consumers to unlearn their new stock-up, cook-in habits.

We will continue to monitor grocery trends at the regional level, but given the tight clustering we didn’t see in the fast food chart, we expect visits to stay where they are for quite some time.

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