Retailers' expectations are changing as we continue to live with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now entering our third year of rolling restrictions and lockdowns, we look back at the retail landscape—how much in-person shopping happened in 2021, and are there signs of hope for the retail industry moving forward?
Leveraging our recently launched FootFall database—which identifies the number of weekly visits to over 120,000 unique locations in Canada using near-real-time, permission-based and anonymized mobile movement data—we conducted an analysis of retail shopping centre visits across the country in 2021 from late summer to fall to understand how visits have changed from 2020 levels, when most of Canada were also under pandemic restrictions.
Below are several key findings:
In 2021, there were 684,460,950 total shopping centre visits in Canada (40,262,409 average weekly visits) over the 17-week period of August 8th to November 29th, compared to 650,909,859 total shopping centre visits (38,288,815 average weekly visits) during the same period in 2020.
The types of retail shopping centres used in our analysis include:
Pictured above: national average weekly visits for five types of retail shopping centres from August 8th to November 29th, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020
When looking at the change in visits for these five shopping centre types collectively, compared to 2020, the three major shopping weeks—Back-to-School, Thanksgiving and Black Friday—drove 11.3% to 18.8% more retail foot traffic.
The year-over-year increase of 17,016,800 more retail shopping centre visits observed in 2021 during these three major shopping weeks—Back-to-School, Thanksgiving and Black Friday—accounted for more than 50% of the total percentage change in retail shopping centre visits from 2020 to 2021 during the entire 17-week period of August 8th to November 29th.
Pictured above: national average weekly visits by type of retail shopping centre from August 8th to November 29th, 2021
Across the entire 17-week period of August 8th to November 29th, 2021, Super-Regional Malls and Regional Malls generally observed growth in foot traffic. In particular, Super-Regional Malls saw an increase in visits in every one of these weeks, culminating with a 74% increase during the week of Black Friday (Nov 22-29) compared to the same week in 2020.
However, these increases were not uniform across the different types of centres. Community Shopping Centres, Neighbourhood Shopping Centres and Power Centres—experienced declines in visitor traffic outside of the key shopping periods, compared to
2020 which identifies a shift in consumer behaviours towards larger shopping centres in a key shopping period.
Pictured above: national percentage change of visits by type of retail shopping centre from August 8th to November 29th, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020
The following section was added in January 2022 to account for the holiday shopping period.
According to the Retail Council of Canada’s annual Holiday Shopping Survey, November remained the most popular shopping month of the season, with high levels of intent for major shopping events like Black Friday and Boxing Day.
Using FootFall, if we classify the holiday shopping season as the six-week period beginning from the week of November 15 to December 20, we see that retail foot traffic volume—across the five shopping centre types, collectively—increased each week in 2021 compared to 2020.
There were significant upticks of 15.5% in the week before Christmas (Dec 13-19) and 12% in the week of Christmas to Boxing Day (Dec 20-26). For the week following Boxing Day, we saw a return closer to 2020 levels, with only a 3% increase,
as jurisdictions across the country implemented renewed restrictions and lockdown measures amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. Along with Omicron, Black Friday promotions that happened earlier in November may have taken some
steam out of post-Christmas and Boxing Day shopping.
Pictured above: national average weekly visits for five types of retail shopping centres across Canada from August 9th to December 27th, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.
Despite sustained growth in retail traffic during the 2021 holiday shopping season, Power Centres, Neighbourhood Shopping Centres and Community Shopping Centres each only increased a maximum of 20% and were relatively flat compared to 2020 across most weeks of the holiday shopping period.
Pictured above: national average weekly visits by type of retail shopping centre from August 9th to December 27th, 2021.
Much of the uptick in retail traffic from the weeks of November 15 to December 20 occurred at Regional Malls and Super-Regional Malls, which observed at least 20% and 60% gains, respectively, across the entire period. During the two weeks before Christmas 2021 and the week after, Super-Regional Malls saw increases of 80% compared to 2020, signalling strong consumer confidence in returning to these large retail locations.
Power Centres, Neighbourhood Shopping Centres and Community Shopping Centres experienced relatively smaller growth in retail traffic in 2021 compared to Regional Malls and Super-Regional Malls, as many provinces in Canada had restrictions or lockdowns on retail shopping in late 2020. Amidst the second wave of COVID-19, these restrictions either blocked or drastically limited access to Regional Malls and Super-Regional Malls, as they were deemed non-essential.
For example, in Ontario’s two largest regions—Toronto and Peel—non-essential retail shopping was only permitted for curbside pick-up or delivery from November 20, 2020, into the beginning of 2021. Exceptions existed for many retailers typically found in Power Centres, Neighbourhood Shopping Centres and Community Shopping Centres. This included supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, discount and big-box retailers, which were allowed to operate at 50% capacity. At the same time, British Columbia and Quebec also implemented restrictions during the 2020 holiday shopping season, including capacity limits in retail settings, as COVID-19 cases surged.
As retailers and shopping centre operators continue to navigate the uncertain circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is renewed optimism as FootFall data showed consumers were increasingly returning to in-person shopping in 2021.
To understand the impact that key shopping periods and various restrictions have on retail traffic or how to use our data to understand your consumers and trade areas better, please get in touch.