2021 Fast Starts

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2020 was certainly not the greatest year ever for offline retail, but its effects may already be driving strength for some brands in 2021. While this year will hopefully be marked by a strong recovery amid COVID’s declining effects, some brands are already showing clear strength.

Which retailers have had some of the fastest starts to 2021? We looked at the data to find out.

The Fast Start

To properly contextualize the fast starts we looked not only at their January visit numbers year over year, but also compared these metrics to the average year-over-year visit gap in the second half of 2020. And that context is critical. Target saw only a minor increase in visits of 0.6% year over year in January. Yet, considering it had seen an 1.5% overall decline in the second half of 2020, and considering how strong the brand was while experiencing those declines, the return to year-over-year visit increases could symbolize even greater potential in the new year. Simply put, there may not be another brand as impervious to wider circumstances as Target, who seems to just be getting stronger. 

Best Buy also saw a rapid turn to growth with visits up 1.5% year over year in January after being hit hard in 2020. The brand was seeing a strong recovery as COVID cases surged just as the critical holiday season was heading into Black Friday, normally the clear peak for the brand’s annual visits. But Best Buy’s ability to mitigate the losses of the holiday season and then already return to visit growth in January is a huge testament to its ability to adapt even in these challenging circumstances. 

Michaels is another interesting case of a DIY brand in an excellent sector that seemed poised for stronger results than it actually had. After seeing a return to year-over-year visit growth in August 2020, the brand saw an average monthly visit gap of 7.0% the rest of the year. But January 2021 was a return to strength with visits up 2.1% for the brand indicating the potential for a strong year.

Context for Ulta

While other players in the beauty space have been hit especially hard in offline visits, Ulta has managed to stay in a relatively strong position. The brand saw visits rise throughout the recovery period with the year-over-year visit gap dropping to just 7.2% in December. This makes the start to January, with visits down just 5.5% year over year, all the more significant as it shows the brand’s powerful ability to sustain this momentum even amid rapidly changing circumstances. With a partnership with Target announced last year set to drive new opportunities, there may not be a better positioned retail brand than Ulta.

Big Things Coming for TJX

It’s one thing to have one of 2021’s fastest retail starters sitting within your wider portfolio, but to have two seems unfair. TJX’s brands, known for their off-price orientation, are among the best positioned in retail because of their unique ability to provide value in this period of economic uncertainty.

Yet, the true potential may be in its wider reach. While HomeGoods is providing high-value goods in the booming home furnishings sector, T.J. Maxx is driving its impact in a hard hit apparel space. 

The ability of HomeGoods to tap into two of the biggest trends driving the wider retail space – a focus on high value and home furnishings – drove visits up 25.2% year over year in January. This is an astounding number that surpassed the strength the brand has already shown in late 2020. But T.J. Maxx’s January may have been even more impressive considering the hit the wider apparel sector has taken. Visits for the chain were up 1.5% in January, the first time they had seen year-over-year visit growth since the pandemic began and a massive turnaround in the year over year visit gap when compared to Q4. 


Will these fast starters sustain the pace deeper into 2021? Visit Placer.ai to find out.

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