The COVID-19 Effect

May 7, 2020

The COVID-19 Effect: Shopping Center Website Traffic & Reopening

As the largest provider of websites and other digital services to the shopping center industry, PlaceWise enables hundreds of millions of digital interactions with shoppers every year. Serving all types of centers located across hundreds of cities in North America, with every shopper demographic you can imagine gives us a pretty unique vantage point to observe trends. We know that 91% of visits to shopping center websites end up with a shopper visit within a week. What could a once in a lifetime pandemic tell us about the connection between website traffic and shopper intent to visit a center?

Using organic web traffic as a barometer for shopping center visitation, planning, and overall interest in brick and mortar shopping, we’ve compiled the following observations of COVID-19’s effect on shopping center website traffic from just before the declaration of the pandemic through to the beginning of the path to reopening.

Observing web traffic for 2020 YTD, we can see that the last “normal” shopping weekend of the year was March 7th-8th. Here we saw the typical weekend spike. As we eased into the following week, things remained normal until the evening of Wednesday, March 11th, the day the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. On March 13th, the US declared a national state of emergency, causing weekend traffic for the 14th-15th to sputter. We observed one final midweek surge in traffic on March 17th, after which there was a long, steady drop that coincided with “stay at home” orders being imposed in an increasing number of states across the country shuttering shopping centers and “non essential” retail, and limiting restaurants to curbside pick up and delivery only.

Organic Website User Traffic Graph

Now obviously, with shopping centers closed, it’s not surprising that web traffic would fall off. But if we think about the underlying cause, the web traffic drop signals people’s inability to visit the shopping center based on the stay at home orders that had been in place for weeks.

Web traffic continued to decrease and hit an all-time low on Easter Sunday, April 12th. Since the low point of Easter Sunday, organic web traffic across the country has been increasing. This coincides with the very public discussion about reopening retail in certain geographic areas. (We’ll skip the theological symbolism).

Last week ending 5/6 saw a nearly 95% increase in organic website users over the week ending 4/29. Website traffic nationwide is picking up tremendous gains, while stay at home orders expire and retail reopens their doors in states across the country.

Digging a layer deeper, we can see the impacts on states who’ve relaxed their stay at home orders in the last week.

Week over week organic traffic increase at the city level:

Week over week organic traffic increase at the city level
Percentage website traffic increase by state

Hardest hit regions like New York are up just 24%, Washington up 24%, California up 44%, Michigan up 55%. All states are now showing some degree of increased organic traffic growth.

What content are shoppers seeking out?

Percentage website traffic increase by page

*Events pages are being used for virtual Mother’s Day events, blood drives, and to disseminate opening information

**Available on select sites

A positive sign we are hoping to see is a continued spike into the weekend. It’s hard to say if we will see the definitive peaks and valleys that signified typical shopper intent this early on in the reopening phase. We have been monitoring these stats closely since the pandemic was declared and expect the rise to continue to be constant and steady as the country moves toward an advanced stage of reemergence.

Download the pdf here:
The COVID-19 Effect