From Omicron’s impact on January visits to rising gas prices in March, the first quarter of 2022 was rife with challenges. Yet, even within this difficult environment, some retailers outperformed and showed unique levels of strength in the face of an ever-mounting series of obstacles.
Here are some of the retailers and segments that thrived in an especially difficult Q1.
It almost goes without saying at this stage that Target belongs on any winners list, yet the company’s Q1 performance deserves special mention. Comparing visits to a pre-COVID 2019, Target visits were up double digits in January and February and up nearly 7.0% in March compared to the equivalent months in 2019.
While much of this growth centers around the retailer’s evolution since 2019, looking at Target’s performance compared to the wider superstore category only reinforces the exalted position Target now holds in retail. Throughout Q1, Target visits consistently outpaced the category and even showed March growth while the wider segment saw visits dip into decline as a result of the significant impact rising gas prices had on visits early in the month.
Year over year visits also showcase the retailer’s strength, with foot traffic to Target up 4.7% and 11.6% in January and February respectively and down just 1.7% in March. The retailer’s endless investments in innovation, new partnerships, and strengthening the customer relationship continue to pay off, enabling visit rates that consistently outperform.
Costco, another of our early predictions for retailers that would dominate in 2022, showed a surprising level of strength in Q1. Visits to Costco outpaced the grocery and superstore categories throughout Q1 with the wholesale club leader showing growth in all three months compared to the same months in 2019. And the success is significant for more than just the pure visit growth. Costco is a retailer perfectly suited to mission-driven shopping that pushes visitors to spend more time at fewer locations as a result of external factors such as COVID and gas prices. Considering both elements hit hard in Q1, it would have been fair to assume that Costco visits would dip below 2019 levels even if overall basket size increases offset the declines.
However, Costco saw significant growth compared both to its own standard and to the standard set by the wider sectors it operates within. The likeliest explanation here is that visits per visitor did decline, but Costco is still benefiting from the long-term boost driven by new members joining up throughout the pandemic. The takeaway is that while Costco’s current results have already been impressive, we may only be seeing the beginning of an extended wave of success.
Overcoming Heavy Obstacles
Packaging AMC Theaters – one of our 2022 expected surprises – and Planet Fitness together may seem a bit strange, but both showed tremendous resilience in Q1. AMC, riding on the impressive The Batman release, saw visit gaps decrease each month in Q1 with visits in March down just 39.6%. Is there still a long way for the theater chain to go? Certainly. Has it taken yet another step in disproving those who claimed the wider segment was facing certain extinction – especially with many major cinema-oriented releases on the horizon? Definitely.
Planet Fitness’s recovery is one that we’ve discussed at length, but the chain and others like it in the fitness space are all worthy of a spot on this list. Largely as a result of expansion, Planet Fitness saw a huge increase in visits compared to 2019, yet it also saw significant monthly increases compared to 2020 and 2021.
But the more important metric may be the increasing rate of visit growth month-over-month (MoM). Q1 is a critical time for fitness, normally boasting the largest period for visits in the year. This made the onslaught of Omicron, gas prices, inflation, and labor shortages all the more significant. Yet, Planet Fitness didn’t just overcome, it saw the rate of success improve each month.
January visits were up 27.1% compared to December, while February and March saw MoM increases of 31.9% and 23.3%, respectively. These show the tremendous resilience of consumer demand for in-location fitness, indicating that the rest of 2022 could be far kinder to fitness chains than initially expected.
Home Depot’s Relative Success
The home improvement and home furnishings wave has been in decline for over a year. While much of this is due to the unique heights hit in 2020 and 2021, the added challenges levied by early 2022 did not do any favors. However, Home Depot’s performance does deserve a special nod. The home improvement giant saw visits up each month in 2022 compared to 2019 and consistently outpaced the wider sector, improving its already dominant role. While the combination of tailwinds boosting the segment’s performance may be dissipating, Home Depot’s position in the sector appears unaffected.
The Coffee King
The shift in leadership presents an excellent moment to revel in the impressive position Starbucks has achieved. Visits in Q1 consistently outpaced the wider restaurant sector, but also the overall coffee and QSR segments. While the heights hit in a year-over-three-year comparison were expectedly limited by the aforementioned challenges, the ability to outperform nearly all related segments is absolutely noteworthy. And while early March presented the most potent of obstacles, the return of office work and the patterns surrounding it should provide Starbucks yet another boost as the push to ‘normalcy’ carries on.
Dollar General’s Continued Elevation
Dollar General has been among the more fascinating retailers to monitor as of late. As opposed to resting on the well-earned success achieved in recent years on the back of an aggressive expansion, the retailer has made strong complementary moves to widen its reach. And the impact is obvious. Dollar General has seen massive growth compared to 2019 – largely due to the store expansion – but even year-over-year data shows the growth. Visits rose 10.4%, 9.3% and 4.3% compared to the equivalent months a year prior, and the retailer’s value proposition should only become stronger as wider economic effects continue to prioritize cost-conscious shopping. Should this trend continue, as most expect it will, Dollar General could be among retail’s prime beneficiaries.
Honorable Mention – Pet Stores
Pet stores saw continued strength through the start of 2022 and the reason appears to be simple. If more people bought pets as a result of the pandemic, those same people will be in need of pet supplies long after the pandemic ends. While visit increases have shrunk – likely due to the wider industry environment – the ongoing strength is noteworthy.
Which Q1 winners will see setbacks in Q2? Whose success will carry deeper into 2022? Visit Placer.ai to find out.