Will shoppers flock to or avoid stores for Halloween and Christmas?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/Juanmonino
Sep 09, 2021

The proliferation of the COVID-19 Delta variant has generated confusion about the safety of shopping. While studies show relative improvement in shopping footfall over 2020, some data also indicate a growing hesitancy to shop in physical stores, which could have significant implications for retailers as the U.S. heads into the fall.

Foot traffic in the U.S. appeared to be improving in July compared to where it was earlier in the pandemic, according to a study by Springboard reported by Yahoo!Finance. While foot traffic was still down 44 percent from where it was previous to the pandemic, it had been rebounding month over month since the beginning of 2021.

Data from New York City indicates that through July major retail hubs were still lagging in foot traffic, according to The Real Deal. The data indicate that 48 percent fewer people were visiting the Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall than in an average year (although the drop may also be linked to the fact that major tenants like Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret are in litigation with the mall owner). At Rockefeller Center, foot traffic was down 47 percent over where it was in 2019. The business districts around Fifth Avenue and in SoHo, however, both report recent increases in foot traffic alongside store reopenings.

Some individual retailers have reported foot traffic continuing to slow into August. Despite being up 40 percent from where it was in August, 2020, Kroger has experienced a steady decline in foot traffic since the high point of a mid-May rebound, reports the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Kohl’s, however, announced in its expectation-beating second quarter earnings report that its traffic improved over the previous quarter, according to CNBC.

Traffic to small businesses has been up 53 percent across the country, according to a study by Zenreach reported by the Triangle Business Journal. Zenreach attributes the increase in small business traffic to changes in shopping habits brought on by the Delta variant, positing that shoppers are making choices that align with their personal values.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you make of the data coming out about U.S. foot traffic, and what do you see as the prime drivers for visiting or not visiting stores? How do you see store traffic developing as we head into the Halloween and the Christmas seasons?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Store traffic will come back but online and things like curbside will still be prevalent in driving sales."
"As we head into Halloween and Thanksgiving, I’m very bullish that foot traffic will be well paced."
"This is still going to be a once-in-a-generation Halloween and holiday season. Despite the doomsayers and fearmongers. People are anxious to get on with their lives."

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26 Comments on "Will shoppers flock to or avoid stores for Halloween and Christmas?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This question requires a crystal ball to answer. Both sides of the coin can be argued reasonably. The consumer will let us know, but betting one way or the other is too risky.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

There are so many disparate sources of traffic data, caution needs to be exercised in interpreting these data. That said, it’s clear that store traffic is still down for many retailers and especially malls and central business district retailers. I suspect that traffic will shows positive signs for the Christmas season, but it will be hit and miss – some retailers will see plenty of traffic while others will continue to see soft traffic. There are a number of factors impacting traffic: 1.) work from home, 2.) shift to online buying and 3.) ongoing health and safety concerns among shoppers.

Bethany Allee
Guest

Digital shopping has progressed tremendously during the pandemic, but people are ready to go into stores, peruse, and touch items. The pandemic has also driven us to become tighter with our social circle – social holidays like Halloween and Christmas will see an uptake this year. People are tired of not celebrating with each other. Parents don’t want their kids to miss any more holidays, so they’ll amp up spending to deliver the holidays in ways that feel safe to them. I wholeheartedly agree we will see foot traffic and spend increase heading into the holidays.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

There are a lot of caveats and nuances in a lot of the numbers. Data from NYC is interesting but it is not entirely representative because of the reduction in tourism and commuting which have affected the city and its locations. Data from Kroger shows that traffic has slowed, but it does not tell the whole story – namely that people have consolidated shopping trips so are visiting less but buying more on each visit. Cutting through some of this noise, what’s clear is that footfall is strongly up on last year but remains below 2019 levels. Some of this is linked to continued nervousness about in-person shopping – and that seems to have risen recently with the acceleration of the Delta variant.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Educated guess: stores will be busy and media (and colleagues) will tout “the return of stores! ” But I would attribute the improved foot traffic this holiday to two things: 1.) lousy or no traffic last year and 2.) the “novelty” of actually going shopping since we’ve been cooped up for almost two years. However — it won’t last. The genie is out of the bottle en masse on the ease and convenience of online shopping and that’s only going to become more evident after we go shopping physically again. Besides, have you been shopping at all lately? Have you seen any improvement in the experience? Is physical shopping competing with the aforementioned ease and convenience? The writing is on the wall, clear as can be.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

This is still going to be a once-in-a-generation Halloween and holiday season. Despite the doomsayers and fearmongers. People are anxious to get on with their lives.

George Anderson
Staff

I think most agree that sales are almost certainly to be up during Halloween and Christmas. Do you expect that a greater percentage of overall purchases will be made in stores than they were doing these two holiday periods in 2019 or do you see further drift to online?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Hi George, I do not see larger shift online and it gets murky when many don’t call out channels.

George Anderson
Staff

Thanks, Bob. Have you seen any research to that end? Everything dropping in my inbox for several years now has forecast that online will continue to grab a larger percentage of total Christmas dollar volume.

David Spear
BrainTrust

I see a two pronged reality with an uptick in foot traffic at smaller stores, boutique shops, and for specialty store owners while at the same time a steady demand at larger big box, deal-oriented stores like Costco. Consumers are keen to find new, fresh ideas and cool items at local, boutique shops. At the same time, these same consumers need to stock up on staples at a place where they believe in the value of the deals offered. I was at Costco this past weekend and it was absolutely packed with shoppers! As we head into Halloween and Thanksgiving, I’m very bullish that foot traffic will be well paced.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust
I think there are a number of issues in play that will affect footfall in the third and fourth quarter this year. Obviously the pandemic is still with us. Those who were more concerned earlier during the pandemic have had their concerns reignited with the Delta variant. This time however they’re experienced with the virus and they know how to manage themselves and adjust their shopping patterns as needed assuage those concerns. United Commerce adoption, which we have been talking about for 18 months, has moved a segment of consumers out of stores and, in many cases, I don’t think they’re going to return in the same frequency as before they could get everything they needed at the curb. The economic issues from the pandemic, especially for those in the lower income brackets, remains challenging. And, as pandemic benefits expire, there will be some effect on their spending. If we see a large dislocation of renters, this could be a big problem for the recovery in general. I still have high confidence in the overall… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I suspect that there will be a lot of regional variances, magnified by COVID-19 cases and unemployment considerations. Sure I’d love to get back to normal but, even in my highly vaccinated area, we now have mandates for all indoor activities. And while I support those mandates, they also provide a cautionary note before heading out.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I think even if parents won’t let their kids go trick-or-treating because of pandemic fears, families will still invest in costumes, candy, etc. to celebrate even inside their houses. Store traffic will come back but online and things like curbside will still be prevalent in driving sales.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

I appreciate Bob Phibbs’s optimism, but there are too many “known unknowns” to make a safe prediction. The national statistics suggest that COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant may have peaked about 10 days ago, but there is little doubt that the current numbers threw a wet blanket over mall traffic.

Does anybody really know what the next three months look like — in terms of resurgence in cold-weather states, cases among school-age children, and so forth? (I didn’t think so.) I can foresee a greater impact on Halloween vs. holiday sales, unless things improve in a hurry.

One positive sign that may point toward improved retail traffic: Moviegoers flocked to the latest Marvel movie (“Shang-Chi”) over the weekend, signaling a lot of pent-up demand for shared experiences.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I rest my case. A certain group of reporters will continue to harp about Covid for the foreseeable future. No one will say, “it’s over.” Ever. And those continuing to hype the fears will influence those who are most susceptible to feeling fearful. Will that affect retail in enough numbers to alter our course? I, like all of you, certainly hope not.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe foot traffic will be down but sales will be up. There will be less looking and more destination shopping. I believe this Halloween will be a blow out with major sales increases. Teens see trips to pop-up Halloween stores as entertainment you can’t get shopping online. Tough to call whether parents will risk the tight aisles and mixed crowd, but I think we’ll see foot traffic way up across the board in all types of brick-and-mortar Halloween stores. Holiday shopping, on the other hand, will be impacted by our winter return to an indoor lifestyle which is conducive to virus spread. So even though shopping in person is part of the holiday season experience, the same trend of less looking but more buying will continue with sales exceeding 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Well, I think I take a more basic view of consumers. I believe everyone remembers what shopping was like BC – (Before COVID-19). And now, with the news sharing new threats, it seems like retail heats up and then cools rapidly. And on and on. I believe when we stabilize again, customers will come back to shopping with a vengeance. And our retailers who have learned mega-lessons through this encounter will be sharper than anyone who has been through this mess.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

The answer requires some classic micromarketing. Regions will behave differently based on their rates of infection. Stores that attract primarily older (cautious) shoppers probably won’t be as busy either. But my crystal ball is probably no better than anyone else’s. The bottom line is that retailers need to have great inventory agility and be prepared to rapidly refill the stores that in the end do sell well, and divert from others. There needs to be flawless execution as the value of seasonal goods really drops the day after the holiday.

George Anderson
Staff

The percentage of Christmas sales being made online was increasing prior to the pandemic with Amazon.com grabbing the biggest portion of that pie. I would expect that consumers will opt to shop from home in even greater numbers for Christmas this year as many create new holiday traditions around gift buying. The situation for Halloween is less clear in my mind with the Delta variant continuing to lurk. We should know in a couple of weeks as huge school systems in the Northeast and elsewhere send kids back to their classrooms this week. All bets are off if we see large numbers of cases spike along with serious illnesses and deaths as we saw in Florida and elsewhere.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I work primarily with independent retailers who are reporting solid foot traffic and stronger sales, although they are working harder than ever to make those sales happen. In many areas curbside and the race to deliver faster has caused many shoppers to stay at home. I received an email blast from the president of Loft thanking customers for their business and warning that they are experiencing delays in their supply chain that will affect their fall inventory. While I admire his honesty that email also gives me reason to visit Loft less frequently.

But Halloween and Christmas are a different animal because we love to celebrate both. I think shoppers will show up, dress up, and decorate for both holidays. The pandemic has taken so much from so many; a little holiday cheer is just what we need right now.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Consumers are becoming more anxious as the Delta and now the Mu variant surge through the country. According to recent research by Numerator Research, 50 percent of consumers are more worried about the Delta variant than they were the original strain. Consumers are pushing back their expectations on a return to normal, nearly half think that won’t come until 2022 or later.

Yes, consumers are worried and will tend to avoid stores during the fall unless their concerns are abated.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I would look at exactly who makes up that 50%. My guess is they are the vaccinated who are basically protected yet being made to feel it is worthless. Shame on the media.

George Anderson
Staff

It’s a nuanced subject as vaccines by their very nature continue to change. I think that’s the point that public health professionals and infectious disease experts have been making since the get-go. Blaming the media is akin to ignoring advice from medical authorities who have adapted their guidance based on developing realities from the virus. It could be that the pandemic is with us for an extended period of time. That doesn’t mean life comes to a stop. If Americans and people in other countries get vaccinated and engage in safe practices (wear masks, stay home when not feeling well, etc.) then perhaps one day we’ll find that the coronavirus is no more concerning than the flu. BTW, the flu, which was pretty much nonexistent last year as people wore masks and practiced social distancing, is expected to rebound this year. It’s not as deadly as COVID-19 but it can also have serious consequences for the elderly and other at-risk individuals.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

George, give me a break. So now it’s THE FLU! There is too much information chasing too many people. I will blame the media for the fascination trying to fill the hole of clicks left when Trump left office. More and worse coming up next! A cargo container is stuck in the Suez Canal! Container ships at the port, oh my! Smart retailers should limit the news — I don’t care which side. It is based on fear, limitation, and paranoia designed for clicks. I’m not a Luddite, but I refuse to participate in the pile-on mentality of a few.

George Anderson
Staff

Did you actually read what I wrote? You’ve been in retail a long time. You’ve never seen a shift totally screwed up by people with the flu? I get that you have your story and you’re sticking to it, but please. As to retailer’s limiting the news, you do realize we live in a world where many people get their information from sources other than actual news organizations that vet the stories the stories they publish? Limiting or controlling news went out the window well before Scott McNealy broke the news that we don’t have any privacy and we should get over it.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

A little more uniformity in comparable metrics might help give a clearer picture — “Fifth Avenue and in SoHo, however, both report recent increases in foot traffic”> compared to? — but of course it’s likely a fallacy to assume that all areas of the country behave exactly alike.

A reasonable assumption (my reasonable assumption, anyway) is that we still have high infection rates, and so will continue to see reduced traffic levels for some time. I hesitate to use the word “normal,” since business fluctuates normally, so let’s just say it will be less than if “2019” had never happened. People scared to go out, plus there are always those that don’t like Xmas crowds … period, will be offset by those eager to do so; it’s impossible to judge, exactly, which force is stronger.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Store traffic will come back but online and things like curbside will still be prevalent in driving sales."
"As we head into Halloween and Thanksgiving, I’m very bullish that foot traffic will be well paced."
"This is still going to be a once-in-a-generation Halloween and holiday season. Despite the doomsayers and fearmongers. People are anxious to get on with their lives."

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