Retailers

Foot Traffic, Spending Data Point to 'Normalizing' Shopping Patterns

Club retailers such as Costco are overcoming early challenges of the pandemic
Photograph: Shutterstock

With the radical impact of the onset of the coronavirus now six months in, evidence is emerging that U.S. food shopping patterns are gradually “normalizing,” with some channels and retailers winning back traffic and sales they may have lost amid the initial chaos.

Issaquah, Wash.-based membership warehouse club Costco may be one of them, based on new foot traffic reports from the location-data company Placer.ai.

Placer data indicates “shoppers are pouring back into stores,” with visitor counts up through all of August on a week-over-week basis.

Costco YOY growth
Infographic courtesy of Placer.ai

Costco is expected to publish monthly sales figures after market on Sept. 2.

Costco's  high-volume stores depend in part on departments compromised or shut down due to the pandemic—including travel, optical and departments supported by restaurant owners, many of which saw their business ground to a sudden halt. Analysts say the chain may have also been especially affected by capacity constraints, given their normal high volumes, and as a result, has realized less dramatic sales increases when compared to peers such as BJ’s Wholesale in recent months.

Recent credit-card sales data from Commerce Signals also indicates increasing strength in the club channel, relative to supermarkets that soared most dramatically in the early weeks of the pandemic.

To be sure, sales are still well ahead of last year in many channels of trade, despite less spending overall, Commerce Signals noted.

Figures for the four weeks through July 25 provided to WGB noted that nationwide consumer payment card spending, across 29 categories, was down an average of 2.3% on weakness in apparel, travel, restaurant and department store spending. In-store spending was down 12.3%, while online was up by 22.2%. Overall, spending in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona was down 11.8% overall. In-store was down 22.8% and online up 16.8% in those locales, which were dealing with pandemic outbreaks.

Below are other insights from Commerce Signals’ analysis: 

Hardest-Hit Consumer Categories

  • Department store sales have not recovered.
    • Overall -44.3%
    • In-store -55.3%, online -26.5%
    • Neiman Marcus, JCP, Stage Stores and Lord and Taylor have all declared bankruptcy.
  • Clothing stores still down as well, though not as much.
    • Overall -9.6%
    • In-store -33.1%, Online +40.5%
  • Travel is still hardest-hit spending category.
    • Overall -64.7%
  • Restaurants 
    • Overall -23.5%

Categories Doing Better

  • Grocery
    • Overall 9.2%
    • In-store 2.3%, online 142.6%
  • Mass
    • Overall 29.4%
    • In-store 7%, online 105.2%
  • Club
    • Overall 18.5%
    • In-store 5.6%, online 41.8%
  • Sporting Goods and Hobby 
    • Overall 58.7%
    • In-store 22%, online 149%
  • Home and Hardware
    • Overall 26.7%
    • In-store 17.4%, online 71.6%

Commerce Signals, a Verisk Financial company, leverages an anonymized consumer credit and debit spending behavior data set that includes 40 million U.S. households.

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