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Specialty Discount Chains Rock Retail Therapy

by 
Lila Margalit
 on 
March 11, 2024
Specialty Discount Chains Rock Retail Therapy

Discount and dollar stores flourished in 2022 and 2023, as rising prices led many shoppers to trade down and tighten their purse strings. Consumers flocked to dollar stores for everything from essential goods to discretionary items like toys and party supplies. And while some chains – including category leader Dollar General – were buoyed by their growing positioning as low-cost grocery venues, others found success by leaning into the affordable luxury space. Brands like Five Below, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and pOpshelf (owned by Dollar General) grew their audiences by offering price-conscious consumers easy access to inexpensive non-necessities. 

But how did these specialty discount retailers fare in the all-important fourth quarter of 2023 – and what does their early 2024 performance portend for the rest of the new year? 

We dove into the data to find out.

Five Below and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Continue Their Winning Streaks

Five Below, the bargain chain specializing in low-cost, recreational merchandise, wrapped up 2023 with a bang. Between September and December 2023, the brand saw year-over-year (YoY) monthly visit increases ranging from 14.6% to 22.1%. And while Five Below’s expanding store count has likely helped fuel this surge, the indulgence-oriented retailer is also attracting shoppers with a growing selection of “Five Beyond” products, priced above the chain’s traditional $5.00 ceiling. Last year, Five Below further cemented its status as a key holiday shopping destination – another factor driving its impressive Q4 2023 performance. And the discounter continued its winning streak into the new year, with strong performance in January and February 2024. 

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet operates according to a somewhat different strategy – enticing shoppers with a broad selection of highly discounted name-brand merchandise. Ollie’s offerings include lower-ticket items like food and books, but also a wide range of premium products like electronics and home furnishings. And Ollie’s closeout buying model means that shoppers never know exactly what they’re going to find – turning each trip into something of a treasure hunt. Like Five Below, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet has expanded its physical presence in recent years – and the chain’s consistent positive YoY foot traffic growth highlights its continued appeal to today’s consumers. 

Rising Visits Highlight pOpshelf’s Value Proposition

Dollar General’s pOpshelf concept – launched in late 2020 with a discretionary-focused product mix aimed at higher income shoppers than the company’s flagship brand – now boasts some 240 locations across 20 states. And as the chain has expanded its footprint, it has also grown its audience. Like other affordable luxury venues, pOpshelf experiences large visit spikes during the fourth quarter of the year, as shoppers seek out inexpensive gifts and other holiday fare. 

As of February 2024, visits to the chain were up 190.1% compared to a March 2022 baseline. Though Dollar General has reined in the pace of pOpshelf’s expansion to account for what remains a challenging retail environment, the company still plans to open more stores this year. And if pOpshelf’s strong visit trajectory is any indication, investing in the concept’s long-term strength may well bear fruit in the months and years ahead.

Something for Everyone

Each of these discount chains has found success by appealing to a different audience. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, with its constantly-shifting closeout inventory, attracts shoppers from areas with higher shares of singles and fewer families with children. Five Below’s and pOpshelf, on the other hand, feature captured markets with larger shares of parental households than of singles – though pOpshelf’s share of the latter has risen over the past year, as the chain expanded into new markets.

For all three chains, however, the extent of the gap between the two demographic groups varies throughout the year – with the share of singles increasing during the summer and the share of parental households seeing an uptick during the December holiday shopping season. (For pOpshelf, this pattern began to emerge in 2023). Five Below experienced a particularly pronounced version of this trend – with the share of singles frequenting the chain actually outpacing the share of families with children each August. This uptick in the share of singles visiting discount chains – especially Five Below – may be due in part to back-to-school shopping by college students, many of whom load up on dorm supplies towards the end of summer. 

Key Takeaways

Specialty discount chains offer price-conscious shoppers affordable outlets for retail therapy. And in 2023 and early 2024, Five Below, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and pOpshelf grew their audiences by appealing to the perennial quest for inexpensive, fun shopping experiences. How will these retailers continue to fare as 2024 wears on? Will cooling inflation put a dent in their gains – or will a revitalized discretionary retail environment propel them forward?

Follow Placer.ai’s data-driven retail analyses to find out.

This blog includes data from Placer.ai Data Version 2.0, which implements improvements to our extrapolation capabilities, adds short visit monitoring, and enhances visit detection.

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