Retail foot traffic ticks up as states loosen rules: Unacast

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foot traffic to U.S. retail locations ticked up last week as more states relaxed restrictions imposed to fight the spread of the coronavirus, according to cellphone tracking information provided by data firm Unacast.

The company estimated here there were an average of 192 million visits daily to retail locations for the week through Sunday, May 3, compared with 167 million the week before, a nearly 15% increase.

The number remains more than 40% below estimates of retail foot traffic from the year before.

But it also appears to show a slow but steady rise in people’s willingness to venture out as the patchwork of state-level restrictions on commerce gives way to a patchwork reopening. The period included the lifting of stay-at-home orders in more than half a dozen states, and the gradual loosening as well of what businesses could open and when.

Unacast gathers the locations of cellphones whose users have opted to allow websites or apps to note their location, and matches that to millions of public-facing retail points of interest, from clothing stores to transit hubs. The company attempts to screen for the presence of employees whose phones remain at a location for an extended period, and standardizes its sampling of cellphone information into a national estimate.

As stay-at-home orders lifted and other rules were eased, that indicated a pickup in traffic across most states, including those that remain under tighter rules.

Visits to auto dealers and restaurants each rose around 19%; visits to even some hard-hit businesses like clothing retailers rose 21%, though from a very low base and still down more than 80% from a year ago.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; editing by Jonathan Oatis