The back-to-school season isn't going to be as strong as it was last year, when August store visits rose 5.1% at Target, 3.7% at Best Buy and 2.5% at Walmart. But recent footfall analysis from Placer.ai suggests it is nevertheless set to come to the aid of retailers.
Back-to-school shoppers are showing up after all, as those chains, along with office supply retailers Staples and Office Depot (where visits declined last year) saw foot traffic pick up during the last week of July and continue into August, according to a report from location analytics firm Placer.ai.
Walmart's 4.5% year-over-year increase in time spent in stores suggests customers are getting their errands done in one place, Placer.ai said.
The back-to-school season has been something of a wild card this year, with the pandemic forcing consumers away from stores and students away from schools, not to mention dragging down employment and the economy more broadly.
That has retailers on edge, considering how back-to-school trends serve as a bellwether for the all-important holidays in the fourth quarter. Both spending periods depend on foot traffic to stores.
Placer.ai has recorded upticks of exactly that. Best Buy appears to have indeed benefited from the bigger-than-usual spending on tech forecast by Deloitte earlier this year, as Placer.ai found its traffic up from July 13 to the week of Aug. 10, hitting a 7.6% peak rise the week of Aug. 3. The electronics retailer views stores as an important asset, telling analysts last week that some 60% of sales flow through the store somehow, through curbside pickup and ship-from-store as well as in-store sales.
Back-to-school season is usually a big one for office supplies retailers. Despite pressures this year, sales have actually picked up somewhat for them too, most evident in the week-over-week data, according to a blog post from Placer.ai Marketing Vice President Ethan Chernofsky. Staples' foot traffic increased nearly 20% the week of Aug. 10 compared to the week prior, while Office Depot's traffic increased 14.2% during the same period.
"All of the brands analyzed have seen growth since the week beginning July 27th, signifying a strong momentum to the overall retail recovery," Chernofsky said in the post. "So, while the pinnacle of the back-to-school season will likely be lower than in 2019, the peak is still taking place, giving a needed boost to this sector."