/ Is Black Friday still a big deal?

By altering traffic patterns and supercharging e-commerce, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we shop. We all know that. But how much has it impacted what has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States for at least the last couple of decades, Black Friday? And how deep are the shifts in shopping behaviors?

We can start to answer these questions using data provided by SafeGraph, which leverages anonymized cell phone data to track number of visitors at specific retail locations. For this analysis, we look at behavior in three Novembers—2019, 2020, and 2021—adjusted for same day of week.

One trend we can clearly see in the charts below is that many stores remained closed on Thanksgiving Day in both 2020 and 2021. (See the dip in both years compared to 2019, when traffic actually started to build.)

Interestingly, while 2021 outperformed 2019 in the earlier part of the month, traffic this year was actually slightly down (about 4%) on Black Friday and throughout the weekend (though back up significantly compared to the 2020 pandemic-impacted season).

Of course, if I’ve learned one thing working in retail analytics for many years it’s that sometimes total number can hide the full story. Below, we look at a similar metric (change in traffic 2021 vs. 2019) broken up by type of retailer and then state. As you can see, some types of retailers, such as Children, Health & Beauty, Electronics, and Jewelry, are still down in foot traffic for November compared to 2019. Others, such as Beverages and Automotive, are up significantly from 2019. Geographically, the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic show declines from 2019 while the middle of the country has generally rebounded beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Feel free to use the data explorer below to filter for specific retailer categories, mall presence, and retailer size and see how the trends change. Pro tip: You can click or drag in any of the visualizations below and it will filter the entire explorer, so you can look at just the end of November or at specific states.

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