Top 5 Foot Traffic Trends of 2021 with Placer.ai
Guest: Ethan Chernofsky
Topics: Placer.ai, analytics
Chris Ressa 0:00
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Welcome to retail retold everyone. Today I am joined by Ethan Chernofsky is the VP of Marketing for place or.ai I am really excited for him to be here. We’re going to be talking about the top five foot traffic trends in 2021 and give you some insight of what trends might be like in 2022. Welcome to the show we’ve been
Ethan Chernofsky 1:32
thanks so much for having me, Chris. It’s great to be here.
Yeah, man. So before we jump in, while you tell everybody a little bit about what you do and who plays or it’s
so please here is a location analytics companies simplest version is people vote with their feet. And we are showing you how they vote across the United States retail locations every single day. I lead our marketing efforts. And yeah, nice quick one.
That is a quick one. And you’ve been doing a good job. I’ve been seeing it from a marketing and I every time I pick up the Wall Street Journal, you guys because you’re doing a good job of PR you get I see. I see a place they’re citing and in the journal off itself. Okay. You’ve been on before, but I want to give everyone we have a new a new segment that you didn’t. You didn’t participate in last time. We call it clear the air. Get to know Ethan a little bit more. I’ve got three questions for you. Are you ready? Oh, I’m ready. All right. Question one. When’s the last time you did something for the first time?
So something real for the first time in June.
Okay, what’d you do?
I did a woodworking class. I made a planter. It was it was not successful, but it was new.
Are you going to continue with this woodworking hobby?
Oh, no, I did it once. And that was it. That was it.
That was a that’s a really cool. It’s Can you appreciate that? It’s a skill though, for sure.
Oh, anybody who can make a straight line with a saw to me is like a superhero.
To share. Okay, question two. And it can’t be woodworking. What is one skill don’t possess but wish you did.
Woodworking? I’ll give you I’ll give you two. I wish I could speak more languages. I wish I was faster. I’m very slow running at running like that. Very slow runner. Like, too much like it’s not fair.
So let’s let’s go back to this running. Do you enjoy running?
I can’t stand it. But it might be connected to how slow I am. I think that is first
off. And are you better at longer or slower distances? So,
um, I’m slow, but like, I’ll push it in a short distance. And um, it’s just like, it’s less noticeable how much slower I am over a longer distance because everyone’s kind of jogging. Right, but I think that it’s a little bit better for me.
Not to put you on the spot, but let’s do it. If you were running like a 5k What do you know what your time might be? Or what’s your like, mile time?
I don’t I don’t know, my mile time. I think if I was doing I don’t even I don’t even know I don’t run that much.
Because you’re slow because you don’t enjoy it. Therefore you’re slow. It’s a vicious cycle.
Nobody wants to time the slow guy like that’s the worst.
So do you work out?
I do. I do but not running.
Okay. Let’s move on. Last thing. What is one thing I think most people agree with but you do not.
I, and I don’t want to, it’s a teaser. I believe that the the we’re overly obsessed with rationality as a cause for consumer behavior. And I am a firm believer that human beings are fundamentally irrational, not the in a bad way, but like we make decisions based on things other than what’s the most efficient use of our time. And so, you know, people in my mind over emphasized convenience, and under emphasize like experience and relationship and interaction, especially in like the business world.
Oh, I love that one. That’s really, I like how you put that I think people have been unpacking this. And another set differently, this ecommerce verse brick and mortar, and you sit and you didn’t go there, but But you did go to this convenience and you went to this place where I agree consumer behavior. People don’t always do what might seem rational to somebody else, but but for they have their reasons as to why. So it’s a really interesting point. Okay, we’re going to jump in here, everybody. Normally, I will give everyone a little insight. Normally, I would prep with the person and I wouldn’t know what’s coming. I do not know what these trends are. So I’m going on the fly. I’m right there with you. Audience. So let’s go. What’s number five? What’s the fifth? hottest trend by foot traffic and 2021?
Okay, so the fifth hottest trend is regressions. Right? So we talk a lot about think companies that really impress us, because they’re growing really fast, or that, you know, the warning lights are going off, because they’re declining really quickly. And that’s normally, you know, quote unquote, a very normal thing to do. And it makes a lot of sense, because a company that’s rising, oh, wow, look, they’re growing. That’s something important to note and a company that’s declining, you know, that also, it demands a notice. But in the current environment, because of where we were, there’s a lot of companies that are going to decline or rise, and the rise isn’t necessarily Oh, my God, look how incredible they are. And the decline isn’t necessarily, we should be worried. And I’ll give you an example. On the decline side, the home improvement sector is down year over year, in many cases, in terms of visits and many other metrics. That’s not because Home Depot and Lowe’s are weaker than they were in the past. It’s just because they saw such a uniquely intense surge, the year prior, that the decline is because you can’t possibly sustain that. And they’re far ahead of where they were in 2019 or 2018. And, you know, on the flip side, look, AMC is rising, and oh, my god, things are getting better month over month. That doesn’t, they’re not still not back at normal yet, though. So regression is going to be a really important story, in terms of how we understand this last year, and how we understand what’s coming next. And it forces us to be much less reactive, and much more focused on okay, I’m seeing something, but what’s the wider context
of regression to the mean on both sides? 100%. Got it. And, and for those, they talked about this, one of my nerdy hobbies is fantasy football. And we talk about they talk about positive regression. So as well, because when you think about regression, always think decline, but there’s they do this with touchdowns a lot where someone will have positive regression, and someone will have negative regression. So we’re talking about regression to the mean here. And is that are you saying are set differently that we’re getting on both sides, back to normal? Yeah,
there’s outliers that are still doing interesting things are very surprising things. But, yeah, visits look a lot more like 2019 than they look like 2020. And when we think about the last six months, I’d say and so we we are moving closer and closer to this place of normalcy. Even the declines that are caused by COVID surges are not as severe as they were even just a few months ago.
That’s really interesting insights. I guess what comes to mind first, are there any outliers who saw a significant either positive or negative pickup that you see continuing the trend in that direction, and it’s not going back to normal? This is a new normal for them.
I think grocery and wholesale, I’ll even get more specific wholesale clubs. So Costco, Sam’s Club BJs, the unique nature of their jumps. And their business model means that it’s likely much more sustainable. Because once I’m willing to go over and pay that cost to be part of the club, it has a very significant stickiness to us that makes me want to come back more and more, especially when they can kind of, you know, succeed and satisfying the demand that customers have. And so that’s a space where the jumps that they took the much more sustainable than another sector that doesn’t have that same model.
That’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that. And I appreciate that. Okay. That’s great. So regression, all right, that’s the what is the fourth?
The fourth is, this is the the call that we gave earlier, I’m going to talk about convenience and at home being overrated. And what I mean by that I’ll give you give me an example. So convenience, in the grocery space, early stages of the pandemic, grocery delivery was all anyone wanted to talk about, we’re never gonna go to the grocery store again. We’re just we’re always gonna, why would we ever want to go? We hate the grocery store, right? But the answer is, we don’t. And actually, we don’t find it all that convenient to shop online. And we probably don’t even prefer it. We like walking the aisles. That doesn’t mean I love picking out what kind of toilet paper I’m gonna get. But it means that when it comes to buying cereal, or meat or vegetables, or when I’m going to cook for dinner that week, there’s it’s the grocery experience is a physical in store experience that we enjoy. And we’re proving that because those numbers are declining, even though we had this unique environment where we were kind of pushed to use it much more. And the other example I kind of like this one even more is, you know, peloton, right? At the early stages of the pandemic, when gyms were getting hit hardest we were obsessing over peloton, and I never need to go to the gym again. I’m going to do everything in my house. Look, I too, I bought weights to have here in my home because I couldn’t go to my gym as often as I was going or at all. And yet, as soon as we are able to go back to the gym, the numbers are surging for the wider fitness sector and for leading brands in the space. peloton had a really rough q3 And it’s not because peloton isn’t amazing. It’s because we like being social, we like going places we like experiencing things. And even these elements that we might have complained about in the past, we’re actually proving that we enjoy them.
So, so true. The I’ll give you one that you should check on that. So convenience is overrated. I love that little line. But so as it relates to the gym, I think it’s interesting. So in my garage, I have a gym, that’s taken me years to build out. Because of all the equipment I have mostly rogue fitness, which is top of the line stuff. And if you could, honestly, I don’t care what sport you’re in, if you were training for the Olympics, and you just in your and your and your non sports specific training is done in my garage, you would be fine. I’ve got everything. Now, my wife still has her gym membership. And she still has her gym membership because part of going to the gym, she needs to get disconnected from the house and the act of going to the gym is just as important as the workout itself for her and so I think that that was an interesting point where to me when she was like I need to actually get in my car, drive to the gym and have the act of going to the gym for me to enjoy the workout as much as the workout is important. So is the act of going to the gym. So I use my gym as much as possible because I’ve got this crazy gym I asked that’s like literally insane, but there’s something to be said for the Octagon gym. Actually, I also something that you should track. I’m sure you do. I I was a moderator on the panel. And there’s an F 45 franchisee, which is like Orangetheory fitness. And I asked him Is there anything that’s changed in your business model because of the pandemic that you that you didn’t expect has changed forever and he said something really simple which is I now have afternoon classes. We said What do you mean he goes a lot of people you know who are working from home well nap now want to have the ability to work out at lunch. So it’s not that they’re not going to the gym, times different they don’t they’re not forced in the morning or at night. They can you know, mosey on in the middle of the day and go to have 45 Min. workout. I thought that was interesting and Probably something you track. So
we had this conversation, interestingly enough, I was obsessed with this idea of like, what about consumer, I know we’re gonna go on a crazy tangent, but it’s a fun one that we’re that incentivizing behaviors that were different pre pandemic, I spoke to one person from the fitness sector, and he said, it’s not my job, to incentivize behaviors, it’s my job to be there when the customer wants to do. But I still get this feeling of like, if I was running a grocery store, and I saw that the people who are coming to a 10, or 11am, because they’re working from home on a Tuesday, are spending 55 minutes instead of 15 minutes in my store, and they’re buying, you know, $10 more of goods, because they have the chance to think about what they want to cook and prepare, and it’s less stressful. I’m figuring out ways to get them in there. I’m like, Hey, you come at these hours, you’re getting something free from the bakery. Come at these hours, you’re gonna have like a much more personalized experience at the gym. Like, I feel like we learned in this holiday season even like with target Walmart, Best Buy pushing those visits earlier in the season, because they were worried about labor shortages. And they were worried about supply chain. And it created this win win for the retailers and for the customer. And it’s actually, this is the idea I’ve been obsessing over for the last week and a half two weeks is are we entering this new phase of retail where like retailers are thinking in a much smarter, more sophisticated way of how to create that win win with the customer? I think it’s I think it’s working. I think we have proof from this, you know, holiday season.
I think you’re right. And I think the question you asked comes from your background, that’s a marketing guys. Answer. Let’s give them a free. Let’s give them a free person to get them in here. That’s a marketing guy or
a guy who loves croissants.
T shirt. All right. So number five was progression number four was convenience is overrated. Number three.
All right, number three, is what we’re going to call the nice to have, right? So we think about the brands that really succeeded in 2021, even in 2020, brands like Target, Walmart Best Buy curbside pickup launching delivery really fast, you know, buy online, pick up in store, delivery capability, capabilities. And I think what we often kind of misconstrue is that like up, they, you know, this need came up and here they were, and they figured out a way to do it. It’s like no Target, Walmart Best Buy, you know, if at Costco we talked about before they invest years, and time and resources and where they think retail is going. And when that kind of Lightning in a Bottle moment comes, they’re ready for it. That’s because of the investment. And so we hear this so much when we talk to vendor when we talk to companies as like a technology vendor of like, Are you a need? Or are you a nice to have. And I used to, you know, get into this thing of oh, let me explain to you why we’re in need. But now I kind of reject the premise was like the best. The most successful companies in any space, don’t live in the need. They live in the nice to have the look at where the sector is going. Where are my competitors not gone yet? How do I get there faster? How do I create a better experience. And so I think, seeing how quickly these brands were able to adapt and take advantage of this opportunity, it’s going to push so many more, to start really thinking ahead and utilizing new technologies and utilizing new approaches, so that they can be ahead of it as the retail world continues to evolve.
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I think that’s right. Where I think some companies are and especially the small business is the capacity for nice to have is really hard. Think of big business, right? Amazon and Walmart are always focused on nice to have and when the time comes they it looks like they hit lightning in a bottle but it’s like it’s the old adage of an overnight success takes 20 years. So I think right so but I think there’s a challenge for For those businesses that don’t have the capacity to invest for nice to haves in the moment, and
disagree, right, it doesn’t have to be huge. Alright, let’s go back to our gyms, I work at a gym that is class based, like you go, you spend an hour there you have the trainer you have the class you take with the people, you know, you take it with, during the pandemic, they utilize them the mobile app that they were just using for scheduling and booking a spot to send us workouts every single day that we could do. And it was they gave away they took, hey, take the as much gear as you can from the gym, let’s give distributed equitably, everyone will be able to continue working out together from abroad, right. And the WhatsApp group was super active. And, you know, they it was something very simple. It wasn’t a huge change. But it enabled them to keep that relationship over the several months that their gym had to be closed. And so that when they reopened, we were all still in, you know, we were like, oh, obviously, we’re coming back because you’ve kept this relationship up with us. So I agree with you that something like I don’t know, robotics to improve, you know, delivery from like Walmart, that’s not something that your average mom and pop shop is going to launch. But there are ways to the asking, hey, what if I add, make sure someone can do a you know, Uber Eats from my location? How do I make sure I have scheduling services, my favorite thing throughout the pandemic was best buy in May of last year, doing appointment shopping when the recovery was getting started. So I can only have 10 or 20% of the people I had in the store now in the store. How do I make sure they’re high intent, have them scheduled an appointment with someone, which means they’re thinking about what products they want, they’re coming with a high intent to purchase. And so I’m taking advantage of what’s coming and so much more of a significant manner. And I think that is not such a crazy idea for any business.
Agreed, I guess maybe I’m playing semantics because your gym example. To me. That was a need in the moment. Not necessarily nice to have those need in the moment. To me anyway,
well, we’re just gonna have to come to your gym. And that was
fair enough. Okay. So we got we got number five is regression. Number four is this. Convenience is overrated. Number three, is this nice to have? What is number two?
Number two is right sizing. I think, and I take this word, not how it’s just used with like, Hey, I’m diminishing the number of stores I have. But in I’m changing the way that I am distributed in terms of my reach and the format’s that I’m used to using to reach my audiences. So take into account here, you know, people who are strategically closing stores like CVS, right, they’re not closing 900 stores because they’re doing badly. They’re closing 900 stores because there’s minor shifts in their model. They think they’re overextended and they can be more optimized. And that’s a really smart, good thing if you’re a lover of CVS and employee of CVS, or community that’s being served by CVS, because they’re thinking about how do we serve you in the long term, not? How do we not overextend, and you know, put ourselves in a bad position the long term, but I’ll add to that other elements. So think about new formats, right in terms of finding the ideal size. So Ulta, store in store and target, Bloomingdale’s launching bloom ease, Dollar General launching pop shelf, these are different concepts. They take up different types of space. And they allow these companies to reach certain markets that they otherwise were unable to reach. The Bloomingdale’s example is a great one of here’s this big, kind of high end department store that needs to be situated in a certain type of space. thing. How do we get to the High Street? How do we get to that main road and this really chic area? We need a new format for that. And I think that more creative approach to how do I spread it’s fascinating Sephora to for going into Kohl’s as a mechanism to reach the suburbs when they had been primarily urban, area oriented and mall oriented, in my mind is, is the perfect kind of way of showing how do you find your ideal size and your ideal reach in these new channels that are available to you?
It’s it’s a good one. i My question is, is there anything from foot traffic that’s led you there that you think ties into that? Yeah.
So there’s a bunch of things that we look at that always fascinates one. How did the How did the stores perform on like a per square foot basis? How do they reach the right demographics with them? So when you look at certain brands, and you see that what they’re you think about what they talk about publicly when they say we’re using we’re trying to reach this type of audience more effectively, and then you can look at the foot traffic data, see the true trade area understand who’s visiting and see hey, does this line up with the who they’re trying to reach. In the example with Dollar General that we loved top shelf, think about the level of competition and how its increased as dollar generals expanded Walmart’s obviously super strong Big Lots Five Below and look at the share of visits amongst all of those value Lane players over the last few years and how tight the competition is doing Dollar General launches pop show, they’re getting into a new app and to a new lane, where there’s less competition, and you see it in the data and you understand why that decision is being made. And that’s what kind of, at least for me, you get so excited about the strategy behind these decisions, and why they’re, at least, you know, likely to succeed. But I’d say even if they don’t succeed, at least if they’re brands that they’re not just throwing stuff out there, they have a very clear thesis that they’re testing with these concepts.
That’s an interesting one. I like this spin on right sizing and I like the connection to the foot traffic you made and the share of foot traffic. Okay, down to number one gender. What is the top 21? Hot the top trend foot traffic trend in 2021? Go? Okay,
this is I think I don’t see how there can be disagreement about it. It’s also the fluffiest. But we have learned last year that the of the huge value of the physical location. And remember where we were in January and February of 2020, the retail Apocalypse narrative was alive and well. We were in the midst of of dumping on Burlington for shutting down their ecommerce site, we were convinced that the world of physical retail was the slow dying entity, malls were going to go away. You know, it was just this good luck, brick and mortar retail. And now here we are the worst thing that could possibly happened to brick and mortar retail. If you created it in a lab, if you were like what could I do that would hurt brick and mortar retail it would be the pandemic right. And yet, visits not only are they back in some cases, in many cases, they’re above there were they were in 2019. We see brands that had been digitally native online only expanding at a rapid pace offline. We’re seeing the values of the store put on full display. So we talk about sales per square foot. We don’t talk enough about how it lowers the cost of acquisition and how expensive it is getting to acquire users online. We don’t talk enough about how important discovery as to the process, how important it is for lowering the cost of returns, lowering the cost of delivery, what it can do just for your overall brand awareness and the uplift even in E commerce from having a store in a specific area. So I think we’re the last going from the extreme of where we were in terms of our perception of brick and mortar retail and I say very broad we obviously it’s a lot of people who recognize this for a long time. And to see how quickly the pendulum has swung to actually I don’t even know if we’re giving stores all the value they deserve, you know and all the all the credit they deserve. That’s a pretty monumental shift. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I think it’s only going to be deepened as we use data and other technologies to make that full circle connection to show. Hey, you know the store you just opened. It’s not just about the stuff you sell there. It’s about all the ways that lowers your cost raises your impact and other channels too.
I said beautifully I say it all the time. See the customer acquisition cost is insanely high. The for E commerce only reverse logistics are a challenge. The discovery process is is tough. All these things and so I think it’s a great point. I do have a question. If you looked at I don’t know if you look at this just in general, all the foot traffic in America 2021 at retail stores, is it higher than all the foot traffic in 2019? Do you know that’s that?
I don’t know that stat I can tell you it is from about June on our overall retail category with looks at over 800 chains is was way up in the summer compared to 2019 down in September, tracked back up to growth in October throughout November. Had a dip Black Friday week but just because of the peak of Black Friday was so much was so significant and is back to growth already in mid December even with Omicron. So I think when we take into the early part of the year Don’t forget like February was absolutely devastating because of the storms that were hitting Texas what was happening New York are so many of these big chains have a large number of locations. So overall, it’s I don’t know if it’s how it’s going to actually end up which year was stronger. But that second half of the year, I think retail was stronger in 2021 than it was in 2019.
Okay, well, this was terrific. I really appreciate it. Any other traffic trends you see in 2022, that we didn’t talk about? Maybe they weren’t intertwined in our top five of 2021?
Oh, can we talk about what I talked about the thing? I liked the least we throw that in that. Let’s do that. Let’s go to least one, I will give this this massive preface. Because there’s really smart people who made this decision. And I don’t want to like as if like they’re not there, at least if I know more than them or anything like that. Ever. There are so many decisions that don’t end up working out that at the very least you look at, you’re like, Oh, I see, I see how you got to that decision, it makes sense that you got from point A to point B, even though it’s not what I would have done. The splitting of online and offline into separate business units or businesses, to me is the the worst trend of 2021. And hopefully it won’t give 2022. But it it is it makes no sense to me. I have yet to hear anyone give me a good reason why splitting them actually works from actually serving your customer in the best possible way. And that is my that is the one negative trend that I will call
I think play devil’s advocate, no, I someone has to I
where I go is I can, I don’t know that that’s the move I would make. I’m not behind in the boardroom of those companies. And I believe that brick and mortar helps ecommerce tremendously, just as we talked about. So it’s alarming. But
the math is simple for shareholders, and so I see how they get from point A to point B, really simply the math is the math is very simple, right? When you just look at it. I don’t remember the numbers off the top of my head, but I think like Saks online business is like 25% of the overall business. Yet, it’s its value is like, this is the same or more as brick and mortar brick and mortar. So to me, that makes a lot you want you want to if you’re trying to maximize value for your shareholders in the short term, there’s definitely I can see how they get from point A to point B, but it’s not.
Alright, so I’ll give you one of my favorite data points from a past life when I worked for an online data company. What percentage of people visit nike.com? Also visit lululemon.com? Less than 10%? Okay, so of all the people who go less than 10% of people go to Nike also go to Lululemon, which tells you in a time period of like, I think I think we were looking at six months or even a year, it was a long time period long enough that you would expect. I mean, obviously if I look for, you know, athleisure pants, I’m gonna look for athleisure pants somewhere else, too, right? They did it. And it was the same across the board with others, you know, athleisure and athletic wear players. And what it told you was that discovery doesn’t happen online. It obviously doesn’t exaggerate it. But the biggest piece of the discovery process is in stores. It’s in malls. It’s watching television and deciding, oh my God, my favorite athlete is wearing X, you know, and I think if you want your online business to thrive, your offline business have this Why is Nike expanding stores and focusing those stories on an authentic interesting Nike experience, because they know if you walk in and you fall in love with the brand, and you see the Jordan poster and the Lebron poster and you get caught up in the aura of what they’re getting off, you’re gonna buy their products there, but more importantly, you’re gonna continue buying their products later on. And you Oh, you need to quit. You need to you know, get a new pair of shoes you already know your size, you’re feeling pretty good about it. You need a new pair of pants, alright, you already know you liked them, get get your RE email@example.com But it’s understanding that kind of symbiosis. That’s so important.
I would say under normal circumstances, that would be a drop the mic comment, and I would have taken my mic and drop that for you. However, Let me play the devil’s advocate, because because I think I think, as I, as I hear what you’re saying, because I think a lot of people in my industry are like, I can’t believe these companies are thinking about doing this right? After all the data that’s out there supporting the importance of stores and these companies restores, first they know, they know if so, that part I can appreciate with I can appreciate. And I, I, I would like to see companies that are thinking about that cheap these together, because I think it’s going to help both channels better. But again, I think it depends on what the end goal is. So let’s talk about that for one second, have you bought a stock? Okay. I’m gonna use round numbers, we’re using Company A, you bought the stock, okay. And the stock was $30 a share when you bought it. You’ve held it for five years. And it’s $2 a share for four and a half years. And now I’m showing you a path that you can exit right now at $40 a share. At some point, you go. That sounds pretty good right now. And you’re 100% That’s the A to B line.
You’re 100% right? On the A to B line. Mike, I was talking about this with with Robin Lewis, who I’ll give a shout out to as someone who, you know, has become a friend in kind of the wider space. We were talking about target target when they were at like, the height of like, everyone was down on target and their CEO steps in,
uses the billion dollars in stores. Yeah, he’s multicellular. Right.
Just follow me on this. Right. And and I think, obviously, you know, there’s there’s something that makes sense. But I think so often, the road to a failed company is the path to short term gains, as opposed to thinking in the long term.
And, yeah, yeah, for sure. I agree. But I think when you’re
and this is why we’re launching an apparel retailer together so that we can test that all these theories. That’s the big drop for this one.
Right? Yes. My fashion sense. I think I’m definitely not going to be the merchant in this in this in this business venture.
So this is our public appeal. Anyone knows a good person who’s looking for a gig call us as we as we start Chris and Ethan’s
t shirt shot. But but the Nike Lulu thing was really good example. And I’m gonna use that quote, because that’s a really, really good example.
For sure, so I appreciate it. Anyway, I’m going to, I want to thank you for your time today. This was terrific. I appreciate it. Hope your holidays are and were terrific. And stay in touch man.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s always so much fun to do this, Chris. Yeah,
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