Many Texans are still recovering from the historic devastation that brutal winter storms unleashed across the state in mid-February. Millions lost power and/or access to running water in their homes, while others spent hours searching for food as shelves emptied and weather conditions led to food supply chain problems.
Understanding where people go in times of crisis is extremely important — foot traffic data can uncover insights about what people need most in preparation for a disaster and in its aftermath. This type of analysis can help people and cities prepare for future crises. Foot traffic data can also help businesses plan and prepare to better meet the needs of communities scrambling for supplies or searching for comfort.
Foursquare examined foot traffic data (indexing from January 1, 2021, through February 18th, 2021) across dining, retail and travel categories in the most impacted cities including Austin, Dallas, Houston, as well as lesser impacted surrounding cities such as El Paso, Amarillo, and Lubbock to pull out key consumer behavioral trends in the wake of the storm.
Among the top trends we observed, the data suggests people in more impacted areas may have fled to surrounding cities for supplies and shelter. In fact, while foot traffic to shops & service locations in the most impacted cities rapidly declined, visits in surrounding major cities like El Paso started to pick up notably throughout the bad weather stretch. For example, visits to shops and service locations in El Paso were up +9% as of February 18 (vs. being down -2% as of February 10), while traffic to general shops and service locations in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio remained down -12-33% as of February 18.
Here’s a breakdown of three key findings by category:
Hardware stores: Specifically, while traffic to hardware stores picked up notably across impacted and surrounding cities, visits to hardware stores in Austin gradually declined throughout the storm. Foot traffic to hardware stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot was down -16% in Austin as of February 18 (vs. being up +23% as of February 10), while visits remained up +37% in Houston, +6% in Lubbock, and +7% in El Paso as of February 18. This trend in traffic could suggest that people likely needed to drive to less-impacted areas for supplies in the wake of the storm.
Hotels: As the severe weather worsened throughout the lone star state, many Texans lost electricity and/ or access to running water in their homes. Indeed, at least 3.4 Million Texas were without running water as of February 17. Unsurprisingly, foot traffic to hotels picked up considerably across major cities during the storm, as residents sought shelter and heat in areas less impacted by rolling blackouts and frozen pipes. Hotels in El Paso and Houston saw the biggest uptick in foot traffic during the storm — with visits still up +2-9% as of February 18 (vs. being down -4-20% as of February 10). As a less impacted market, El Paso may have seen an uptick in hotel traffic from residents coming from more impacted cities across Texas.
Gas stations: Foot traffic to gas stations also picked up most notably in El Paso and Houston during the storm (up +12-17% as of February 18), while gas station visits in Dallas and Austin remained down -4-7%. The demand for gas to power generators in areas without power could be a key contributor to the uptick in visits, while other Texans may have been hitting the road to escape the more impacted cities in the aftermath of the storm.
Of course, many industries across Texas were also hit hard by the harsh weather. Fast food visits plummeted in many cities and foot traffic to bars — which had started to decline in early February, possibly after a boost around the holidays — also saw a sharp decline. Unsurprisingly, foot traffic to gyms, offices, and schools virtually stopped altogether, perhaps due to a combination of pandemic concerns and the bad weather.
While many of the foot traffic trends stemming from historic weather patterns may be unsurprising, there are certainly some key takeaways for businesses and governments alike. For example, businesses that sell emergency and home supplies can take foot traffic data into account when planning inventory during seasons when severe weather is more common, hotels can staff appropriately as bad weather approaches, and cities that don’t lie in the fiercest path of the storm can rally to help their neighbors in times of need.