Behind the Scenes: 3 Steps to Successfully Predict Holiday Traffic

November 10, 2016 ByStaff



Using Historical Traffic Data to Inform 2016 Holiday Planning

 Hopefully, you’re already looking at your stores’ historical traffic data and planning for the 2016 holiday season, but if you haven’t gotten around to the analysis yet, or are looking for some tips to make sure you’re on the right track, ShopperTrak is here to help.

Every year, as we create our Top 10 Busiest Holiday Shopping Days, we analyze historical trends that apply to all of ShopperTrak’s U.S. retailers. In doing this, we dig deep into relevant items that influence future traffic performance: e.g., YOY traffic trends, calendar shifts, trends in retail marketing, and major weather events.

As we compiled our 2016 traffic predictions, we paused to identify the most influential factors that are undoubtedly relevant to all kinds of retailers as they perform their own YOY traffic analyses and plan for 2016 holiday staffing efforts.

Here are ShopperTrak’s top 3 “must dos” when analyzing your own traffic to inform 2016 planning efforts:

1. Align the pre-Christmas week by day of the week

When thinking about your traffic data, the most important thing to remember is to realign your data so that you can make fair comparisons.  Traffic can look like it fluctuates wildly YOY, if it’s aligned by calendar date, rather than by day of week.

For example, since Dec. 1 was the first Tuesday of December in 2015, but in 2016, Dec. 1 is the first Thursday, these days will likely experience different traffic levels because of the shift in where they fall in relation to the weekend.

ShopperTrak has reviewed data across all retail sectors from 2011 – 2015. Traffic patterns, when aligned by day of the week, remain remarkably consistent (see Figure 1).

There’s no reason to expect that these patterns will change greatly in 2016.

It’s also important to recognize that there will be anomalies within larger traffic patterns as we move further into December. For instance, we regularly see small, yet increasing, weekday traffic pattern disruptions as Christmas Day approaches.

Finally, pay special attention to which week of the month Super Saturday falls into:  we know that, historically, Super Saturday traffic intensifies with its proximity to Christmas Eve. The one exception is when Christmas Eve and Saturday are “one-and-the-same” because shopping typically ends around 6PM.  Next year, in the 2017 holiday season, Christmas Eve falls on Sunday and Super Saturday leads off that weekend, which means that 2017 Super Saturday traffic will likely see a positive bump.

2. Realign Christmas week by proximity to Christmas Day

Looking at the seven days leading up to Christmas by their proximity to the holiday often yields informative insights that can greatly affect staffing decisions. Figure 2 (below) represents traffic distribution from December 19 – 27th for the past 5 holiday seasons.

As alluded to above, we recommend paying special attention to Super Saturday, as the intensity of Super Saturday traffic increases with the day’s proximity to Christmas Day (unless Saturday is Christmas Eve). Further, December 23rd and 26th are key dates because these days see much higher traffic when they fall on a weekend (i.e., Saturday or Sunday) or extend a weekend (i.e., Monday or Friday).

A final interesting note to remember is that while Christmas Eve is unlikely to ever appear among ShopperTrak’s Top 10 Busiest Days, traffic on this day does remain consistent YOY, no matter what day of the week it falls on. This pattern remains consistent because brick-and-mortal stores tend to close at similar, often earlier, times on Christmas Eve – typically 6:00 PM local time.  This is significant because general shopping behavior trends indicate that traffic begins to drop off significantly around 5:00 PM.  Whether this trend is a result of fatigue, holiday preparation, or retailer-driven mandates is open to interpretation.

3. Recognize the actual, not perceived, effect of opening on Thanksgiving Day

Generally, we find that the more recent trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day has little effect on overall holiday performance. Indeed, as Figure 3 demonstrates, Thanksgiving Day openings appear to merely redistribute traffic numbers from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, as well as the Saturday and Sunday that follow.

Traffic activity erosion on those days is negatively correlated with the increase in Thanksgiving Day activity (-94%). Black Friday has remained remarkably consistent, mirroring the trend of overall YOY traffic trends that possess minor erosion, due to Thanksgiving Day openings.

This traffic dispersion trend serves to further substantiate the fact that the key shopping days for Thanksgiving week are always Black Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

For a complete list of ShopperTrak’s top 10 busiest and top 5 slowest traffic days of 2016, check out our infographic here, where you’ll also find our strategic suggestions for consideration when planning for the upcoming holiday season.


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