Thanks for Visiting!

Register for free to get the full story.

Sign Up
Already have a account? Log In

Placer Bytes: Costco's Outlook, Burlington's Potential and Ulta

Ethan Chernofsky
May 25, 2020
Placer Bytes: Costco's Outlook, Burlington's Potential and Ulta

In this Placer Bytes we dive into Costco’s performance and what changes to consumer behavior could mean for the coming months. Then we take a look at two of retail’s strongest pre-COVID performers to get a sense of how they could rebound.

Costco’s Silver Lining

Costco has been among the most consistent performers in retail over recent years with a seemingly unstoppable ability to produce strong visit numbers. And 2020 kicked off with the same momentum with January visits rising 2.6% year-over-year and February visits spiking to 10.5% year-over-year growth. The latter peak was pushed heavily by the surge in wholesale traffic as pandemic concerns began to spread nationwide. 

However, the inevitable downturn began in March, where a huge start to the month was quickly followed by significant decreases, driven heavily by Costco’s self-imposing restrictions on visit numbers and times. This led to March visits dropping 0.8% year over year before visits bottomed out at 28.2% declines year-over-year in April.

But the outlook isn’t all bad. Compared to the same period in 2019, March through May 2020 visits showed a 4.7% increase in visit duration. This is a significant metric that indicates the potential for a larger basket size even as visits declined. Additionally, certain changes to customer behavior could benefit Costco in the longer run. Because the store tends to have a higher visit duration than other grocers, the flexibility of when and where to work could boost visits. Costco did see Monday through Thursday visits rise from 47.9% of visitors to 56.0% during the period. 

The next element driving the optimist’s case for Costco is that visits are indeed back on the rise. Visits were up week over week by 2.3% the week of May 4th through 10th, and this is all before the removal of restrictions on visitors that was announced May 15th. So yes, visits are down. But they were obviously going to be down considering all the measures the brand self-imposed. 

The real question is how quickly can ‘normal’ visits return. And here is the final piece of the equation. The combination of the membership club model, the opening up of other in-store resources, and the positioning for a time of recession all work in Costco’s favor. A high-value offering, along with a membership model that incentivizes loyalty, the return of revenue channels, and longer visit duration, could actually mean that the coming months may set the brand up for new heights.

Burlington’s Future Potential Coming Into Focus

Pre-COVID, Burlington made the decision to double down on offline and close their eCommerce offering. At the time, there was a clear rationale behind the decision, and while the complete shuttering of offline apparel retail may have caused doubt, there are still reasons to believe that Burlington could bounce back strongly.

To begin, the brand was on an offline tear pre-pandemic. Visits in January 2020 were up 12.2% year over year only to be surpassed by February visits that were up 16.7%. March visits then began the difficult period with an 11.0% year-over-year decrease before April saw visits come to a standstill. 

While the pre-COVID period showed promise, the post-COVID period could be even more interesting. With the wider off-price sector well positioned for the coming economic certainty, Burlington could also see its value offering benefit in the coming months. Also, like other players in the space, it could see benefits from the financial struggles of key competitors like JC Penney. 37.4% of Burlington’s audience shopped at a JC Penney over the measured period meaning closures could drive more visits to Burlington. So even with COVID-19 putting a block on its visit surge, the future still may be bright.


One of our favorite brands heading into the year, Ulta has a similarly fascinating question to answer. Visits in January and February 2020 were up 9.6% and 14.6% year over year respectively before they obviously plunged in March and April.

With stores already beginning to open mid-May, one key concern centers around their ability to thrive without the ‘touch and feel’ experience brought to the forefront by their samples. Removing this could provide a limitation, but as stores open, the ability to recreate their pre-COVID excitement will be critical to watch.

Can these three brands, who were each riding so high pre-pandemic, retain their early 2020 momentum?

Visit to find out.

Get 3 brand & industry
breakdowns every week

Subscribe to the newsletter

Great! Prepare your inbox for data-driven insights...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get a Demo

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please provide a valid email
Please enter your email
Please enter company name

Thanks for reaching out!

One of our experts will be in touch soon

Try Free
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Why Are Specialty Grocers Thriving in 2023?
The CAVA Craze: A Location Intelligence Perspective on the Mediterranean Marvel
How Will Primark’s US Expansion Impact Target?
All Eyes on Eyewear
Northwestern U.S. Grocery Dive
Return of the Lunch: Salad Chains Are Thriving
Retail Media Networks – Off the Beaten Track
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: Discount and Dollar Stores Drive Foot Traffic
Ulta & Lululemon: Discretionary Spending On The Up
The Score After Q1: Sporting Goods Chains
Who Uses NYC Airports: Biting Into The Big Apple’s Main Transport Hubs
Off Price: Strength in The Face of Retail Challenges
Visits Improve for Home Improvement
Walmart, Target & Wholesalers in Q1 2023 – The Return of Mission-Driven Shopping?
Department Store Roundup: Q1 2023 Office Index: April 2023 Recap Mall Index, April 2023 – A Rebound on the Horizon?
How Will Bed Bath & Beyond’s Bankruptcy Impact the Retail Space?
Buffet Restaurants: Filling Up on Foot Traffic
Thrift Stores: Vintage Visits Drive New Age in Apparel
The Windy City: A Hub of Post-Pandemic Opportunity
Diving into Dining Traffic - Q1 2023
Bring On The Joe
A Dollar (or more) For Your Thoughts: Five Below and pOpshelf
Dining Out With The Cheesecake Factory
Retail Foot Traffic Recap – March 2023
Digging Into 2023: McDonald’s and Chipotle Update Office Index: March 2023 Recap
How Did Key Retail Categories Perform in Q1 2023?
Northeastern USA Grocery Dive
Movie Theaters Storylines for 2023
Ollie's Bargain Outlet: Discounters are Evolving
Leveraging Brick-and-Mortar Retail in 2023
America’s Evolving Work Patterns: A Deep-Dive into New York and Chicago Mall Index March 2023
Tuning Into Record Stores
Five Franchises To Watch in 2023
What’s Next For Domestic Tourism?
It’s Showtime! Movie Theaters in the Spotlight
5 Limited Time Offers (LTOs) Driving Restaurant Traffic
Department Store Deep-Dive: Belk
Regional Grocery Chains Staying Ahead of the Competition
Five Chains that Rightsized for Success
Unlocking the Potential of Offline Retail Media Networks
Dining Out With Darden
What’s in Store for Self-Storage?
Nike & lululemon Update: Strong Performance Amid Expansion Plans
Many Ways to Win: Midwest Grocery Deep Dive
Retail, Reinvented: The Rise of the Pop-Up Shop
Navigating a New Normal in Business Travel & Commutes Office Index: February 2023 Recap
Retail Categories Staying Strong in Volatile Environment
Ulta Beauty: Poised for Success into 2023 Mall Index February 2023: Reasons for Continued Optimism
Catching Up With DICK’s & Hibbett
The Miami-Dade Arena: An Advertising Slam Dunk
Car Washes Revving Up Visits
Tuesday Morning and Sunrises in Home Furnishing
Dining & Valentine’s Day Recap
2023: The Year of the Discount Store
Aldi’s Success Highlights Growing Demand for Value Groceries
5 Retail & Service Categories Holding onto Pandemic Gains in 2023
Visitor Insights from Super Bowl 2023
2023 First Look: Home Improvement Update
How Are Target, Walmart, and Wholesale Clubs Faring in 2023?
Department Store Deep-Dive: Nordstrom
Off-Price: Taking Off in Uncertain Times
Checking in On Middle-Class Hubs
Who Attends the Super Bowl? Office Index: January 2023 Recap
Focusing On Fitness: Q4 and January Recap Mall Index: January 2023 – Returning Mall Normalcy?
Location Intelligence Insights Into Concert Attendance
Winning Dining Strategies for 2023
In-N-Out Burger: What to Expect as the Brand Moves East
Location Intelligence Breakdown: Coffee Caps-Off 2022
Digitally Native Brands Lean Into Brick & Mortar
Washington, D.C. Population Changes & Migration Trends
A Location Intelligence Perspective on Macy’s Rightsizing
Amazon-Powered Shopping: The Future of Brick-and-Mortar Grocery?
Cold Weather, Hot Visits: Diving into Winter Resorts
Wawa and 7-Eleven: Leaning Into the “Slurpee Effect”
2022 and Beyond: Catching Up With McDonald’s & Chipotle
Let’s Have Some Fun! Going Out Is In’s Q4 2022 Quarterly Index Adds Industry Executives to Leadership Team To Drive Company's Next Phase of Growth
5 Emerging Retail Formats: 2023’s Brick-and-Mortar Evolution
Grocery Update: Zooming in on the Lone Star State
2022 Office Recap: The Year of the TGIF Work Week
What Lies Ahead for Brick-and-Mortar Luxury in 2023 Mall Indexes: December 2022 Recap
Looking Back on 2022’s Holiday Shopping Season
Post-Pandemic Migration Trends in New York
Top Retailers for 2023
The Live Sports Advertising Opportunity
Domestic Migration to the Mountain States: Small Shifts with Big Implications
New Year, New Food: 5 Dining Trends For 2023
This is Why Shop-in-Shops Are Everywhere
Super Saturday 2022 Recap