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Retail and dining in Florida dips as concerns over COVID-19 surge grows

Tampa Bay, however, is an outlier. A marketing expert explains why.
Shops and restaurants along Main St, Thursday, July 1, 2021 in Dunedin. Overall, foot traffic among retail stores and restaurants has slowed this summer, which experts say is due to growing concerns over the delta variant.
Shops and restaurants along Main St, Thursday, July 1, 2021 in Dunedin. Overall, foot traffic among retail stores and restaurants has slowed this summer, which experts say is due to growing concerns over the delta variant. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Aug. 19

The rise of the delta variant is putting a damper on shopping trends in Florida.

Sales from shopping and restaurants nationally dropped 1.1 percent in July from the previous month, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s latest report Tuesday. While shopping is still up compared to the beginning of the year, that spike is beginning to slow.

Foot traffic for retail, restaurants and entertainment in the U.S. increased 52 percent since the start of 2021, according to cell phone data analyzed by the marketing firm Zenreach, which is down three percent from a month ago.

Florida has seen fewer gains in traffic so far this summer. The state also saw traffic in stores and restaurants drop in July nearly 8 percent from the previous month.

“What I thought was interesting is that Tampa foot traffic has actually picked up whereas the rest of the nation has kind of flattened,” said Megan Wintersteen, vice president of marketing for Zenreach.

Wintersteen explained how the latest coronavirus surge is affecting Florida shoppers. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you explain why shopping and dining gains in Florida are behind the rest of the nation?

The reason for that is twofold. The first thing that we need to consider is seasonality. If you look at the full list, a lot of the southern states fall on the lower end of that list in terms of percentage. And that’s just because Floridians have the ability to really enjoy the outdoors and go out year round.

If you look at states like New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, all of those have a huge increase. So if you think about what’s going on Jan. 1, you’re in the thick of winter and some of these northern states, just by human nature, there’s less customer foot traffic in in that time of year.

The other part here that is worth considering is how restricted was the public in January? States like Florida, Texas and Arizona had much less restrictions and they did not last as long as some of the other states like California and the Northeast corridor. So again, you’re comparing it to a time when businesses had curfews and the mask mandates were on. Some types of businesses were still closed altogether, whereas Florida just did not have that level of restriction. So the incremental lift from that point will not be as high.

How has the delta variant affected how people are shopping this summer?

What we’ve been seeing from a nationwide perspective is July flattened. And pretty considerably, I’m not sure that we expected to see that happen so quickly, but there’s certainly growing concerns over the delta variant. And that’s being reflected in these numbers, some places more than others. What I thought was interesting is that Tampa foot traffic has actually picked up whereas the rest of the nation has kind of flattened.

Honestly, Tampa has been the anomaly in a lot of this data.

From January through June, Tampa saw a 10 percent decrease in customer foot traffic. If you look at that for July, it went to minus four. It means that there was a six point gain, versus the rest of the country which saw declines. Even Orlando was 44 percent in June, and July dropped to 40 percent, which was much more on trend with what we were seeing across the board.

Megan Wintersteen is a vice president of marketing at Zenreach.
Megan Wintersteen is a vice president of marketing at Zenreach. [ Courtesy of Zenreach ]

Why has Tampa Bay seen a decrease in foot traffic since the start of 2021?

It’s one we’ve been keeping our eyes on. We have dug into Tampa, specifically, over and over again, trying to understand that. The best explanation that we can come up with is that some of these other markets like Orlando and Miami are really driven by tourism. And so you know, Miami had some huge festivals over spring break, which really picked up their foot traffic. Orlando, we’re seeing people come back to amusement parks.

And Tampa, for whatever reason, has not seen that kind of same influx.

How is dining traffic compared to retail?

From an overall perspective, food and beverage is actually down. In July, we saw the numbers dip to 52 percent from 57 percent. So that took a fairly big drop, whereas the national numbers went from 55 percent in June to 52 percent in July. It seems to be impacting restaurants even more.

The other thing that’s going to impact restaurants is the mask mandates. So as mask recommendations pick up, I’m very curious to see how that impacts our data. Looking at it the other way, as mask mandates were lifted, that’s where we saw the most significant upticks in consumer foot traffic. We saw spikes in whatever region that occurred in.

In Florida, there are limits from placing mask mandates or other pandemic restrictions. What’s causing the slow down here?

Florida as a whole was flat in July. So in June, overall foot traffic had increased 13 percent for Florida since January. And if you look at that in July, it only increased 5 percent, which means that there was about an 8 percent drop in foot traffic overall. That’s absolutely reflective of these growing concerns over the variant. Regardless of whether or not those mask mandates and other restrictions are in place.

Is there anything else that you would want to point out about the latest retail and dining trends in Florida?

We’ve found that foot traffic to small businesses has actually been returning at a quicker pace than some of their like larger chain counterparts. We’re seeing about a 14 point difference in foot traffic to small businesses versus the larger businesses (nationally).

It really reinforces the concern and the impact of the pandemic on the local level and how people really wanted to find ways to support their local businesses.