70 Percent of Shopping Happens After 6PM – Or Maybe Not?

Not long ago I heard someone comment that “70 percent of shopping occurs after 6 PM”. This is a statement that has been quoted for a couple decades now, and like most people, I accepted it for a long time. The more I became acquainted with retail, though, the more I had my doubts. Eventually I even began to look for a source to corroborate the claim. It seems there really is no source. In fact, the information we do have suggests something very different.

The best source of information is the American Time Use Survey compiled annually by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It shows that the number of people shopping actually peaks in the early afternoon and steadily declines through the remainder of the day. Fewer than one in five shoppers are out in the evening hours from six to ten.

After 6 Shopping Chart

The data tells us a few things more. Overall, we are shopping less. The number of people shopping* dropped from a daily average of 38.0 million in 2003 through 2007, to 34.3 million per day in the 2011 to 2015 time period. Comparing evening shopping between these two periods, the percentage of shoppers out during the hours of 6 PM to 10 PM declined from 19.5 percent to 18.7 percent. The percentage of people out during the daytime hours from noon to 6 PM remained relatively unchanged, while there was an increase in morning shoppers (8 AM to noon) from 19.7 percent to 20.4 percent of the total. The morning hours also saw in increase in the percentage of people patronizing service businesses.

Other data sources show that patterns vary for different kinds of retail businesses and shopping formats. Simply open up Google Maps to understand this. When you click on many businesses and scroll down the information window you will see “popular times”, a bar chart that reflects the typical customer traffic patterns for that business, by hour, for every day of the week. A grocery store will typically peak around four in the afternoon while a home improvement center will peak around eleven in the morning. Businesses like a coffee shop may have an uneven pattern of busier and slower times.

The upshot of this is that while our downtown businesses are certainly leaving some of the market potential on the table when they close early, it may not be as much as we have assumed. Whether it makes sense for those businesses to be open in the evening is really a more complex question that needs to factor in the kind of business, surrounding businesses that might help draw traffic, and the additional sales volume that might be captured. If the goal is to capture more sales, these businesses may best be served by encouraging them to develop their web presence, engage in online sales, and provide same day delivery services, rather than simply extend hours.

* Rather than “people” we should probably be using “shoppers by hour”, as the same person might be shopping more than one hour, but the simpler term will make this easier to read.

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7 thoughts on “70 Percent of Shopping Happens After 6PM – Or Maybe Not?”

  1. Another facet to consider is the number of small businesses that are actually ‘mom and pop’ retail stores. After being in the store all day (8-10 hours), they are anxious to go home, help their kids with homework, fix a meal for the family, or just take a moment to relax and unwind. They probably saw the ‘shoppers’ habits before the professionals.

    1. Very true. For many of these businesses, remaining open would require hiring workers and incurring additional costs. Even if they have the resources, many of them might be right in questioning if they would capture enough additional sales to profit from remaining open later hours.

  2. This information is incomplete. It does not discuss what type of retail, time of year, region, product, etc. I find many US govt reports lacking any good data for smart business decisions. This generalized review is incomplete.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I agree that the results are generalized. I think the article addresses this in pointing out the differences between types of businesses and how the decision about whether to remain open in the evening is going to be different for every business based on their unique circumstances. The point is that the often-repeated line about evening shopping – itself a blanket statement – is not backed by real numbers.

  3. Yes, like the others have said, I think there are still bits of information missing here. The type of work culture also plays a big role in the shopping habits. For example, in a place like Dubai…more than half the population finishes their work by 5 or 6pm, and employers are not usually flexible or accommodative when it comes to working around employees needs. So shopping and other services are open till midnight. But on the other hand, in a place like Australia, I have noticed that employers are accommodative and respect family needs. Also, the work timings and work days can be adjusted as per the employee’s convenience. Therefore, a person can shop during the day/week and does not have to go out in the evening. So, it does not make sense to have shops open late at night as well.

  4. The quote I’ve always heard is “after 6 pm and on weekends.” If you factor in Saturday and Sunday, this data might change.

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