How far did foot traffic fall at Philadelphia-area shopping centers during the pandemic? Far. 

While it’s no surprise foot traffic at the region’s malls, power centers and retail strips fell during the stay-at-home orders throughout the Philadelphia region, an analysis by CBRE Inc. found it dropped by more than 66% between March 13 and March 27. Foot traffic bottomed out at 50% on April 12, which was Easter Sunday.

“Foot traffic has since gradually increased, albeit never rising above 50% of the lowest measure and averaging about 50% less than in the same weeks in 2019,” according to the report. 

The idea of looking at the data was to determine where foot traffic actually stood and whether it was as bad as everyone believed it was, said Brian Bruzek, a retail broker in CBRE’s Radnor office who represents landlords and tenants in lease transactions. 

What the analysis revealed was that the year started out on a strong note, with foot traffic across the board significantly higher than at the beginning of 2019. 

Between January 1 and March 13, foot traffic at the shopping centers studied in the nine-county Philadelphia region averaged 40% higher than in 2019. Foot traffic in January alone grew by an average of 47%, year-over-year. 

“We started at a really elevated level. Everyone was feeling pretty good about life before Covid,” Bruzek said. “Unemployment was low and we had a very mild winter.”

Then stay-at-home orders were implemented and foot traffic across the all retail types fell and fell quickly. 

Little by little it improved. Once consumers’ two-week supply of food dwindled and stay-at-home mandates were extended, foot traffic picked up at grocery-anchored centers. Those retail properties experienced a nearly 40% increase in foot traffic, year-over-year, according to CBRE. By comparison, non-grocery-anchored centers have seen foot traffic fall an average of upwards of 60%.

To that end, the data did reveal some winners and losers. Centers with grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants fared better and were more resilient than enclosed malls, which were closed.

As time went on, visits to retail centers began to pick up as restaurants, stores and consumers began to adapt. They tapped the likes of Doordash, curbside pick-up, online grocery delivery, Instacart and Amazon. Restaurants started to do meal kits. Other retailers did curbside pick up for online orders. 

Since the week of April 19, there has been an a steady uptick in foot traffic at the region’s retail centers and that may portend a renewed comfort level of people to return to in-person shopping as the region moves into the green phase and health measures such as social distancing and masks are in place. 

“There is pent up demand for some experience with proper protocols,” Bruzek said. 

*Article courtesy of Philadelphia Business Journal

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