Foot Traffic Analysis Shows Height of Black Friday Retail Bump

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The 2017 holiday shopping season is off to a healthy start, with consumer spending on Black Friday reaching a record $5 billion. Data from ShopperTrak shows that traffic at brick-and-mortar stores decreased less than 1% from Black Friday last year, which is actually good news compared to what some analysts had been fearing.

In order to paint a more complete picture of holiday sales at retailers with physical locations, the data science team at Skyhook Wireless analyzed millions of mobile location signals, cross referenced with its database of points of interest venues, to compare traffic at six major retailers on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday to two days during the week prior (November 16th and 17th).

Skyhook’s analysis found that Walmart, Target, and Best Buy beat Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Sears in volume of in-store foot traffic on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, and that peak in-store shopping took place late on Thursday afternoon. Second to that was just past noon on Black Friday.

“We chose these particular stores because they are pretty evenly represented across the U.S., not just regional locations,” says Rich Sutton, VP of geospatial at Skyhook. “We view all of these stores as Amazon competitors, so we were curious to see what their foot traffic patterns looked like this year as Amazon continues to dominate.”

An uptick in shopper traffic was seen across all the retailers in Skyhook’s analysis around 4 pm on Thanksgiving Day, which was right before most stores opened. Retail traffic peaked around 5 pm and 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day, and noon or later on Black Friday. According to Skyhook, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Sears saw close to the same number of visits during both days of the holiday week and more than the previous week.

Skyhook’s data paints a very different picture than how Black Friday shopping is typically portrayed, with consumers getting to stores early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. This foot traffic data could be used to help retailers plan for more effectively for next year’s Black Friday events.

“We find that Black Friday shoppers are actually more active on their phones than shoppers during typical days,” Sutton says. “This may be attributable to more aggressive deals and comparison checking inside stores.”

Sutton also envisions brands using the data for competitive research, as Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Sears may want to dig deeper to determine why their volume of foot traffic was lower than competitors. Of course, he also cautions that there are limitations to this type of foot traffic analysis. For example, the analysis is limited by the sample size density in the real world.

“What we are actually measuring is active mobile phone activity in the vicinity of these stores or brands. So as long as a significant percentage of people have their phones out when they’re visiting Target or Walmart, that adds to the sample density we have to measure from,” he says.

Sutton also notes that Black Friday shoppers show up at a higher intensity, which means Skyhook actually needs to “dampen” its Black Friday traffic numbers in order to normalize them against baseline traffic.

“There are a lot of additional complexities beyond ‘counting points in store footprints’ that we apply to the problem to remove erroneous and inaccurate data,” he says, “including filtering low quality device locations and maintaining a highly accurate venues database.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.