The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Local Commerce: Changes in Spend Across Neighborhoods and Online
32 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2020
Date Written: May 2020
We document a number of striking features about the initial impact of the pandemic on local commerce across 16 US cities. There are two novel contributions from this analysis: exploration of neighborhood-level effects and shifts between offline and online purchasing channels. In our analysis we use approximately 450 million credit card transactions per month from a rolling sample of 11 million anonymized customers between October 2019 and March 2020. Across the 16 cities we profile, consumers decreased spend on the set of goods and services we define as "local commerce" by 12.8% between March 2019 and March 2020. Growth in all 16 cities was negative. Consumers shifted a substantial share of local commerce spend online, such that year over-year growth in online spend was small, but positive, at 1.5%. With respect to grocery and pharmacy purchases, online spend grew at least three times as fast as offline spend. Overall spend declines were uniform across neighborhoods of differing median household income, though lower-income neighborhoods experienced the highest proportion of extreme negative declines. We also find evidence that many low-income neighborhoods are increasing spend on online grocery slower than others, but increasing their use of online restaurants the fastest. Consumers in low-income neighborhoods also tend to live farther from the grocery stores at which they shop. Compared to their counterparts in higher-income neighborhoods, consumers in low-income neighborhoods have not been more likely to shop at grocery stores closer to where they live since the onset of the pandemic.
Keywords: local spending, COVID-19, local commerce, cities
JEL Classification: R10, R12, R2
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation