Which Retailers Are Winning Back-To-School Store Traffic?

Ross Dress for Less, T.J. Maxx and Target were the big Back-To-School winners last year, says Foursquare President Steven Rosenblatt.

Foot traffic in general during 2016’s back-to-school season may have fallen, but two retail categories that have otherwise seen prolonged weakness in sales actually came out ahead: big box stores and department stores both saw an uptick in year-over-year foot traffic during this timeframe, according to an analysis of store visits by Foursquare.

In terms of specific brands, Ross Dress for Less, T.J. Maxx, and Target are among the retailers that saw a lift in foot traffic.

With eMarketer forecasting a decent 4 percent rise to $857.18 billion in 2017’s Back-To-School shopping season, which is gradually rolling out now, Foursquare’s data shows how different areas of the U.S. are experiencing foot traffic levels.

During back-to-school season, parents (on average) visit shopping malls 6x, Big Box stores 5x and department stores 4x, the location intelligence provider said. In comparison, these parents make fewer trips to specialty stores such as electronics, office stores and bookstores. Big Box and department store visits have generally been up 2x during the season.

For its findings on Back-To-School traffic, Foursquare analyzed back to school shopping season in 2015 and 2016 (July 4-Labor Day) and identified parents as anyone over the age of 30 who has visited schools (preschools, elementary, junior high and high schools) within the last calendar year. (“All data is normalized against U.S. census data and is anonymized and aggregated,” the company said.)

In a breakdown of “urban versus suburban” shoppers, the latter category’s parents plan Back-to-School shopping trips earlier than urban parents. Suburbanites tend to stock up on books, electronics, and other supplies in late July/early August. Those shoppers then will likely pick up last minute items right before school starts around Labor Day Weekend.

We checked in with Foursquare President Steven Rosenblatt for more details on the company’s analysis of Back-To-School store visits.

GeoMarketing: Is there any particular week between July 4th and Labor Day that tends to see the most foot traffic?
Steven Rosenblatt: Foursquare’s foot traffic data reveals that parents in rural areas tend to start their back-to-school shopping earlier than urban parents, with visits to places including malls, big-box stores and office supply stores picking up in July and early August. Urban parents stagger shopping more evenly throughout late July and August but visit electronics stores last.

Category Urban Suburban
Big Box Aug. 13, 2016 Sept. 3, 2016
Bookstores July 30, 2016 July 30, 2016
Clothing Stores July 30, 2016 Aug. 6, 2016
Dept. Stores Aug. 20, 2016 July 30, 2016
Electronic Stores Aug. 27, 2016 July 30, 2016
Shopping Malls July 30, 2016 July 30, 2016
Paper/Office Supply July 30, 2016 Aug. 23, 2016

*Foursquare data above shows some more specific dates for the busiest times in 2016 for major categories for both urban and suburban parents.

In terms of the individual retailers mentioned — Ross Dress for Less, T.J. Maxx and Target — is the period of Back-To-School shopping tend to bring the highest traffic versus other periods, such as the Holiday Season? Basically, trying to put in context how important this period is for these retailers.
The holiday season still pulls in more foot traffic overall, but back-to-school marks a crucial moment for retailers as they strive to maximize their impact (and revenue) during Q3, and since it’s a big draw for in-store shopping. This back-to-school shopping season, we’re working closely with retail marketers to take advantage of both digital as well as brick-and-mortar insights to optimize their strategy for engaging with consumers who are weighing the pros/cons of shopping big-box stores, department stores, malls and more. Given the challenging retail environment, it’s important to understand customers, competitors and best practices to drive people into physical stores.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.