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Expand chart
Data: Placer.ai; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Just as department stores were aiming to get back on their feet this holiday season, shoppers walked in the other direction.

Driving the news: Net sales rose in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, but department store chains can't yet claim full recovery: Foot traffic has fallen sharply.

Why it matters: Investors are paying more attention to foot traffic, especially because a number of department stores are splitting off the e-commerce businesses that are now fetching higher valuations.

  • "The holy grail in retail investing is the retailer with positive [foot] traffic," Ryan Cotton, Bain Capital's global head of consumer and retail, tells Axios.

By the numbers: Traffic for all apparel stores is down 5% for the year (as of Dec. 6) compared to 2019, according to data provided to Axios by Placer.ai.

  • In the month of November, apparel suffered a 9.4% decline in foot traffic versus November 2019.
  • Traffic at Macy's and Kohl's, both of which are being targeted by activist investors, was down 19.1% and 12.6%, respectively, from January through November.
  • JCPenney and Belk saw foot traffic at their chains drop by 28.1% and 21.9%, respectively, over the same period.

On the flip side: Saks Fifth Avenue saw traffic actually grow 6.2% in 2021 from 2019.

State of play: November marked a significant setback in retailers' push to bring more people in the door. Much of this was due to the receding role of Black Friday in shoppers' lives — and retailers like Walmart opting to close on Thanksgiving Day, Ethan Chernofsky, VP of marketing at Placer.ai, tells Axios.

The big picture: Declining foot traffic is the persistent retail trend, Cotton says.

  • "The traditional mall stands as one of the starkest examples of this phenomenon — the place we all couldn’t wait to go in our teens is now the place we all work to avoid," he adds.

The bottom line: With price increases skewing year-over-year sales comparisons, foot traffic may become a better barometer for measuring retailers' health and determining valuations.

Go deeper: Our insatiable appetite for speedy delivery

Go deeper

Jan 10, 2022 - Economy & Business

Main Street without workers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As labor grows scarcer and pricier, stores are turning to cashier-less checkout to stay in business.

Why it matters: Businesses increasingly face the almost unheard-of predicament of figuring out how to keep their doors open with fewer — or no — employees.

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker