Compared to previous years, 2023 saw a general improvement in foot traffic across multiple sectors, with some industries recovering faster than others. Driven mainly by a return to normalcy post-pandemic, people rediscovered the accessibility of essential amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, gyms, and offices within walking distance as commuter creep widened into regional markets. The convenience of these amenities raised the bar for walkable, well-connected real estate in central business districts.

As trusted advisors to landlords and retailers, we understand that convenient locations offering easy access are crucial to maximizing customer satisfaction and driving business success. Places near amenities, green spaces and public transportation encourage people to visit, increasing foot traffic and ultimately translating into longer store dwell times.

High-Traffic Rebounds

The top three categories experiencing significant rebounds were grocery, sporting goods, and mass merchandise. Grocery witnessed a substantial increase in foot traffic as people prioritized convenient access to stock daily necessities. Our research indicates that the grocery sector had an average of 943,000 visits last year and is poised to continue. As food price concerns continue, frontrunner discount grocery stores experienced more robust performance than non-traditional grocers with plans for expansion. Sprouts Farmers Markets plans to invest heavily in new and established markets, and as consumers remain bullish about frugality, Aldi and Lidl are bringing intention to their store expansion plans.

Outdoor sporting goods stores like Dick’s, Patagonia and REI came in second with an average of 886,000 annual visits. Not surprisingly, 80% of outdoor activity categories experienced participation growth, including camping, fishing, hiking and sport climbing–physical pursuits that often require specialized gear and supplies.

Mass merchandise retailers round out the top three. Brands like Costco, Target, and Walmart are gaining a sizable market share with an average of 569,000 visits in 2023, with consumer attention focused on these shopping destinations providing the most value and variety for food and apparel.

Outlier Categories Poised for Growth

Among those categories that ranked lowest in foot traffic for 2023, automotive retail, health and fitness and personal care saw a slight increase in consumer visitations. Fueled by millennials and Gen Z’s focus on health and wellness as a lifestyle choice and status symbol, the fitness market has witnessed robust growth and proven relatively resistant to economic fluctuations. A high concentration of boutique fitness studios that focus on niche activities like rowing, boxing and yoga, a fan favorite, expanding nationwide.

Beauty brands are stepping into brick-and-mortar locations, seeking wider exposure to people on the street. Jones Road, Bobbi Brown’s latest venture, has plans to scale its boutique into U.S. markets like Palm Beach. The most significant outlier is automotive retail, evolving from selling traditional vehicles in large car lots to EV boutique showrooms in shopping centers

The observed foot traffic increase of 2023 was a welcome resurgence for retailers and consumers eager to embrace living three-dimensionally once again. Economic uncertainties and potential recessions could impact consumer spending, affecting foot traffic across various sectors. Retailers must be prepared for these fluctuations and adopt flexible strategies to maximize footfall.

Read our recently published piece on The Transformation of Physical Stores in the E-Commerce Era for additional insight into retail trends and influencing factors.