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The Grocery Retailers That Saw Traffic Soar in 2021

Aldi, Sam's Club, Dollar General among those closing the year on a strong note
Walmart self-checkout
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

Shoppers made more-frequent trips and spent less time in-store at some of the country's biggest grocery retailers in 2021, new data from Placer.ai suggests.

According to data from the foot-traffic analytics firm's latest quarterly reports, the median superstore visit was 6.6% shorter in the fourth quarter of 2021 than it was in the final quarter of 2020 and 6.4% shorter than during the same period in 2019. For grocery stores, median visit length slid 3.6% over the end of 2020 and nearly 2% on a two-year stack.

But shoppers visited more often and made more trips on weekdays: Weekday foot traffic was up 12% at grocery stores and almost 10% at superstores in the fourth quarter of 2021 vs. the same quarter in 2019. Weekday traffic in both segments climbed over 2020 levels, too, whereas weekend traffic fell slightly year over year. 

"This surge in weekday visits reflects the fact that the pandemic and its extensive disruption to daily and weekly routines will likely have a long-term impact on consumer behaviorincluding the shift to more weekday errands in order to keep the weekend free for leisure or family time," Placer.ai stated in its fourth-quarter superstores report.

And there were retailers that bucked the trend, scoring traffic growth year over year, on a two-year stack and even over the relatively strong—and delta-affected but omicron-free—third quarter of 2021. 

Foot traffic for Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi soared 7.5% quarter over quarter, 8.6% year over year and 20% vs. the fourth quarter of 2019, according to Placer.ai's data. San Bernardino, Calif.-based Stater Bros. Markets saw traffic climb 4.8%, 7.3% and 21.5%, respectively, on a quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year and two-year basis. Albertsons, too, posted traffic growth across all three time periods, including nearly 15% growth over traffic at the fourth quarter of 2019.

Within superstores, Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart and Target all tallied higher traffic quarter over quarter, year over year and on a two-year stack. Among them, Sam's Club and Target saw the biggest increase in visits (8.5% and 7.9%, respectively) vs. the prepandemic fourth quarter of 2019. The biggest winner of all, visits-wise, among big retailers was Dollar General: As climbing inflation pressed consumers at close of 2021, the Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based discounter saw traffic growth of 8.6% over the third quarter, 16% over the end of 2020 and more than 28% over the fourth quarter of 2019. 

In December, Dollar General said that frozen/refrigerated items had outperformed all other product categories in the company's third fiscal quarter, which ended Oct. 29, and that fresh produce is now available in approximately 1,900 of Dollar General's more than 18,000 stores nationwide.

"Despite the widespread worry in the early days of COVID that online grocery shopping would supplant in-person visits," Placer.ai concluded in its grocery report, "it appears that here, like in other retail sectors, the e-commerce vs. brick and mortar narrative created a false dichotomy. The demand for groceries is strong enough to support robust growth both on- and offline." 

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