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When Americans Ask for Directions, They're Probably Hungry, a Survey Shows

By Daniel B. Kline - Dec 27, 2018 at 7:00AM

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Groceries and fast food account for more than half the trips taken by car, according to an analysis of voice commands.

While digital sales may grow by around 15% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 -- reaching $124 billion -- that's still only about 19% of total holiday sales. Those numbers may vary a little during the rest of the year, but they show that roughly 81% of spending takes place at a brick-and-mortar business. And in most cases, consumers drive there.

Yes, some people walk to stores and others take public transportation. But in general, it simply makes sense to drive when shopping. To figure out where people are going, Drivemode, which offers technology-based solutions for drivers, analyzed verbal searches from 876,000 drivers using Android-powered devices -- excluding requests for "home" or "work." That showed where people wanted to go (at least those who did not already know their way) and offered significant insight as to which retailers and restaurants are the most popular for these drivers.

A traffic jam

When hunger strikes, it's time to ask for directions! Image source: Getty Images.

Where are we going?

Drivemode's data, gathered from 2015 to 2018, shows that America's drivers want to go to Walmart (WMT 0.08%) three times more often than the next most popular destinations -- McDonald's (MCD 1.77%) and Costco (COST 1.97%). That's actually more impressive than it sounds because 70% of Americans live within five miles of a Walmart and 90% live within a 15-minute drive from one (meaning that a decent percentage of people should know how to get there without asking for directions).

Overall, almost half (48.5%) of all voice requests were for just nine businesses. You probably won't be surprised by them: Walmart, McDonald's, Costco, Home Depot, Target, Starbucks, Best Buy, Lowe's, and Walgreens.

When it comes to types of destinations, grocery stores led the way with 30.13% of requests. They were followed by fast-food restaurants at 21.29%, and consumer shopping at 17.4%. (The Drivemode study included Walmart, Target, and Costco in the grocery category. Other categories that received at least some searches included banking, gas, school, and places of worship.)

"If they're not driving to work, this new study shows that Americans get behind the wheel to spend money somewhere, mostly on food,"  Drivemode CEO Yo Koga said in a press release. 

We're buying and eating

It makes sense that people will get in their cars when food is involved. You can, of course, have food delivered (true for both meals and groceries). But in many cases it's just as easy, if not easier, to go to the store or drive-through yourself.

"While some Americans are driving to run other errands, like to the post office or the bank, that's not nearly as common as retail-related trips," Koga said. "This study underscores just how much traffic on America's roadways can be attributed to purchasing habits, particularly when the purchases are edible."

This data only tells some of the story: While it's a large sample, it only covers Android users. Apple iPhone users may have different preferences, and people who don't use phones or other devices for directions may produce different results entirely.

Still, this is a large study, and it shows what motivates a significant number of people to get behind the wheel. Mix food and retail, and a lot of people will drive to get there.

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Stocks Mentioned

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
WMT
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McDonald's Corporation Stock Quote
McDonald's Corporation
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$247.90 (1.77%) $4.32
Costco Wholesale Corporation Stock Quote
Costco Wholesale Corporation
COST
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