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Measuring Foot Traffic Trends: The Future Of Retail Marketing

March 29, 2018 by Reveal Mobile

Retail foot traffic and marketingThis article originally appeared on

New technologies in the mobile phone era are enabling the measurement of retail foot traffic that will ultimately change how retail promotions are evaluated and how retailers compete.

Data sourced from opted-in location-sharing mobile devices will likely become a major metric for brick-and-mortar campaign success — just as the number of unique monthly visitors is to e-commerce sites. Both sets of data (real world and digital) can be mined for determining what’s working and what isn’t as retailers compare their data to the competition.

The most recent holiday shopping season is a great example. Anonymized, historical location data from devices can show which retailers won the battle for foot traffic both for the all-important Black Friday shopping day and throughout the holiday season.

The holiday season is the retail industry’s make-or-break opportunity for a profitable year.  This year was no different, and the news was mostly positive.

The National Retail Federation reported that more than 174 million Americans shopped over Thanksgiving weekend (from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday) — 51 million were in-store only, 64 million purchased both in-store and online, and 58 million were exclusively online shoppers.

The surge of people researching, evaluating and ultimately buying online or via mobile apps during the holiday season continued. Adobe Insights (via reported that mobile devices accounted for 46.2% of digital revenue on Black Friday, an increase of 18.4% over 2016.

Despite these trends and headlines such as “Mobile wins Black Friday shopping,” the good news for brick-and-mortar retailers is that most Black Friday shopping is still taking place at physical store locations, with 77 million making a trip to purchase items vs. 66 million buying online, according to Adobe (via Multichannel Merchant).

Foot traffic trends that we at Reveal Mobile compiled from mobile location data at over 8 million U.S. locations found that these seven retail chains saw the most visits on Black Friday: Walmart, Target, The Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Best Buy, commanding 35.8% of all retail foot traffic on Black Friday.

Share of overall retail foot traffic - Black Friday 2017


As shown in the figure above, Walmart captured 11% of all Black Friday retail visits, followed by Target with 7.1%. This can be critical information for any retailer wanting to see how they compared in foot traffic with these top retailers and determine what worked and what didn’t with consumers.

Foot traffic also provides information on when stores are their busiest. For instance, our data found most consumers prefer to do their shopping midday, despite all of the media buzz around 6 a.m. Black Friday specials. Across all retail shoppers, 22% shopped from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., with 32% shopping from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30% from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 16% 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The top seven most visited locations on Black Friday consumed the majority of early morning shopping, with over 20% of all 6 a.m. shoppers visiting one of the aforementioned major retailers.

When looking across the entire holiday shopping season and the most visited locations, Walmart captured the majority of retail foot traffic, ranging from 30% to 38% per day against the other six major retailers. Again, this is likely due to the fact that Walmart has twice as many stores as its peers. From this data, it’s easy to see that Walmart is the Goliath in retail foot traffic that other retailers will need to compete better against during the 2018 holiday season.

% of Foot Traffic Across Top 7 Locations

One interesting observation (figure 2) was the late holiday surge in shoppers visiting both Walmart and Target on December 23 and 24. For the top seven visited locations, Walmart took 30-38% of each day’s foot traffic when measured against the other six retail chains. We believe that this trend is not driven entirely by gift shopping but rather by the ability to also purchase food and pantry items in preparation for friends and family visits, with holiday presents as a secondary motivator. These are the sorts of insights that can be derived from real-world visitor data.

If you’re a business looking to leverage foot traffic data and turn it into relevant insights, here are a few best practices to follow:

• Look beyond your own location data sets: While most major retailers have their own mobile apps, and therefore the ability to build location-based analytics from that audience, that typically doesn’t provide a sizeable enough audience to create a statistically significant panel. Partnering with other firms and data providers allows retailers to amplify their audience size and increase their confidence in the results.

• Location-based audiences provide value before, during and after ad campaign: Before a campaign begins, location-based audiences help define the most relevant audience to reach. Relevancy can be a retailer’s own audience, a competitor’s audience or visitors to related industries.

• If possible, combine standard campaign data with purchase data: By marrying together standard campaign data with purchase data, like impressions and clicks with footfall data, marketers begin to see the true efficacy of the advertising spend. This will enable them to make more intelligent campaign budget decisions moving forward.

The role that mobile and digital purchasing will play over future holiday seasons points to increasing influence, whether from sales directly online, by helping to inform in-store purchases or by allowing retailers to measure increases in foot traffic and sales and therefore measure the efficacy of their campaigns.

We expect to see continued innovation from retailers of all sizes to combine all the marketing and analytics tools in their belt to compete for consumer spend. Measuring the impact of those efforts in driving new foot traffic, and ultimately sales, will be critical for them to determine where to invest their marketing spend in the future.

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