Consumer retail activities have changed drastically following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of amounts of money spent, types of goods and services purchased (Wheat et al. 2021b), distances traveled (Farrell et al. 2020), use of the Online retail (Wheat et al. 2021a) or combinations of health risks and government restrictions (Wheat et al. 2021c). Less measured but no less worrisome is potential consumer shifts from smaller to larger retailers. This can be either a reason or a consequence of how different types of retailers have performed since March 2020. Additionally, insights into consumer spending behaviors can help inform how policymakers and business leaders think about the challenges facing different types of retailers in the near future.
We use the credit and debit card transactions of approximately 1.5 million people to describe consumer spending behaviors across types of retailers (roughly corresponding to size) and shopping channels (online and offline). We focus on purchasing general goods and groceries. While overall spending growth for these products is strong, we find that growth is not necessarily evenly distributed across different types of retailers. While the pandemic has produced a steep divergence in the share of spend captured by different types of retailers, spend shares across all retailer types are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Importantly, we observe very different results depending on product type, suggesting that businesses, consumers or neighborhoods may need support tailored to specific sectors of the retail economy.
Our sample for this study includes debit and credit card transactions from a sample of approximately 1.5 million Chase customers residing in the New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA Core-Based Statistical Area between January 2019 and August 2021. For an individual’s transactions to be included in our sample, the individual must have:
- made ten or more transactions through Chase’s credit and checking accounts, and;
- Lived in a ZCTA area that is part of New York City for the month in question.
Limiting our analysis to individuals who are regularly active each month during our study period protects the growth of Chase’s customer base from being representative of New Yorker spending growth in general. While Chase customers cannot enter and exit the sample based on their activity, we allow entry and exit based on location. Take, for example, someone who lived in the Manhattan ZIP Code 10027 from January 2019 to February 2021, then moved out of town in March 2021 and did not return. From January 2019 to February 2021, their transactions would be included in the spend we measured. However, from March 2021 to August 2021, their transactions would not be included in our actions.
For this analysis, we focus on retailers that sell two product types: general merchandise and groceries. General merchandise retailers include department stores, discount stores, large online retailers that sell a variety of goods, and other retailers such as florists and bookstores that sell everyday goods. Grocery retailers include vendors who sell groceries for consumption at home. These include traditional grocery stores, bakeries, grocery stores and some online grocery delivery services.
The main distinction between retailers in this report is whether or not a retailer is ranked as a top retailer. In this report, these two groups are referred to as “Top Retailers” and “Other Retailers”. While there are many ways to measure company size and market power, for the purposes of this report we have categorized companies based on broad measures of market share, number of offices and geographic footprint.
We first ranked the top 100 establishments based on their share of the market for spending in a given year (2019, 2020 and 2021) through a given channel (online and offline) and for a given product (general goods and groceries). For example, in one iteration of this process, we identified the 100 establishments with the largest offline grocery market share in 2019. For each company represented in this list, we then counted the number of operations they list on their website and identified where those operations are located. Finally, we ranked companies as top retailers or other retailers using the scheme in Table 1. If a company is not in the list of establishments with the highest market share, they are automatically classified as other retailers.
By combining our shopping channel view with our retailer type view, we were able to create four categories for the New Yorker’s spend: offline transactions at top retailers (referred to as offline, top retailers in the images below), offline transactions at other retailers ( Offline, Other Retailer), online transactions at top retailers (Online, Top Retailer) and online transactions at other retailers (Online, Other Retailer). These categories form the basis for this analysis.
Table 1: How we assign retailer type after identifying top companies