Measuring the economic recovery using geolocation data

Stephen Buehler
Stephen Buehler

Creator of Astra Insights & Founder of Astra Ventures

Since the onset of the COVID lock downs, we have all debated the potential shape of an economic recovery. Will it be a “V” shape, “U” shape, “Nike Swoosh” or something else? We all have opinions. But no one knows for sure.

I thought it would be interesting to look at actual foot-traffic data to see what story it tells us. This data is from an awesome tool created and published by Foursquare. Foursquare is a social networking company that focuses on physical location data obtained from your mobile phone (e.g. when you click yes to “will you allow XXX to track your location”). I also recently wrote a post using their data that digs into trends by industry. You can read that here.

What can we see from the Foursquare data (which is as of June 2, 2020)?

Note: This is an interactive took that allows you to review trends across “All Categories” or by specific industries (airports, groceries, hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.). You can also review changes (i) week over week or (ii) vs. pre-COVID from February ’20.

  • For “All Categories” 47 of 50 states had increased foot traffic week over week (those that declined are Vermont, New Hampshire and Arizona). This makes sense as states begin to reopen. I overlaid this data onto a map as shown below.
  • The largest All Categories week over week increase was in Washington DC (at +11.8%). However, that was off a deep low as DC still has the greatest total decline since pre-COVID levels (at -35.2%)
  • Speaking of trends vs. pre-COVID levels, for All Categories, a lot of states show increases in activity vs. pre-COVID levels. I find this to be very odd and, frankly, not believable. For example, I live in Tennessee (which shows +10.6% vs. pre-COVID levels). I can assure you foot-traffic is still way less now than it was pre-shutdown. So I’m more than skeptical of these pre-COVID measures. I am inquiring with Foursquare on their methodology to understand these metrics.

Other interesting observations of week over week activity changes by industry are below.

  • Grocery stores – All but one state had lower activity which shows people are reducing their stockpiling.
  • Airports – All but 2 states (Maryland and Minnesota) had increased activity
  • Fast food – All but 3 states had increased activity
  • Bars – All but 1 state had increased activity. Priorities.
  • Fitness – With the increased fast food intake and time at the bar, at least people are hitting the gym. Every state saw increased activity at gyms.

There are lots of other industries you can toggle and this tool is worth exploring. The link to Foursquare’s tool is below. Ultimately, this data is interesting, perhaps more anecdotally than empirically. But it does show hard data to back up what we all know in terms of how states are beginning to see increased economic activity.

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