Target and Walmart Positioned to Thrive in 2022

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Walmart and Target both enjoyed strong summer visit metrics as the combination of retail’s reopening, pent up demand and limited COVID cases created a powerful opportunity. Yet, the winter holiday season presented a much trickier situation, with labor shortages and supply chain challenges creating a significant obstacle that was only exacerbated by rising COVID cases in December and January.

So, how did the two retail giants perform in late 2021 and early 2022? 

Overall Numbers Still Strong

Overall, both retail giants saw very strong numbers relative to other retailers. Looking at visits compared to the same months in 2019 and 2021, Walmart saw visits down 2.5% in November, up 0.3% in December and down 3.1% in January. This outpaced the wider retail sector with far more limited declines and an actual visit gain in December. Walmart’s increase in December is striking, in large part because of the declines seen on a normally critical Super Saturday. But the minimal declines in November and January are perhaps even more important. Though the retailer lost out on Thanksgiving traffic completely, and January visits were heavily impacted by Omicron, the overall effect was fairly limited. 

This speaks to Walmart’s ability to offset the unique challenges faced in recent months with a focus on an extended holiday season (visits were up 5.3% in October) and its omnichannel strength. 

And while Walmart’s results were impressive, Target’s were even more exceptional. The retailer – one of our 2022 winners – saw visits up 3.8% in November, 5.2% in December, and 6.2% in January compared to those same months in 2019 and 2020. These metrics were all the more impressive considering the retailer faced the same combination of challenges as Walmart and others. Supply chain, labor shortages, COVID, the loss of Thanksgiving and more meant that the season could have been considered successful even if visits had been slightly down. Yet, the retailer saw significant visit growth even compared to a strong season two years prior. Target’s omnichannel strength and unique understanding of its audience all helped drive visits during this period.

Though the comparison to two years prior is likely to be most relevant, the year-over-year numbers were even stronger. Walmart and Target both saw significant year-over-year visit increases that showcased its ability to rebound from the height of the pandemic, even during a COVID wave that saw record breaking case numbers. The success speaks to the underlying reach these retailers have in terms of locations and the wide range of products on offer. The latter enables Walmart and Target to take advantage of a range of retail opportunities, whether the surge is driven by grocery demand, holiday gifts, or anything in between. In addition, the keen understanding of their respective audiences enables them to effectively drive the right strategies, with Target’s Ulta or Apple partnerships serving as ideal examples.

Success Regardless of Shopping Behavior Shifts

Another critical element of the success over the last two years is that it is taking place even as consumer behavior shifts. Both brands succeeded by leveraging mission-driven shopping patterns at the height of the pandemic, when their wide array of products created a unique advantage. Yet, that strength has sustained even as visit durations decline back to ‘normal’ – indicating the powerful ability to thrive in essentially any retail environment.

The successes also do not appear to be coming at the expense of either retailer. Target’s visits have been rising even as cross-shopping patterns with Walmart have increased back to pre-pandemic levels in recent months. 

And the overall visit share further bears this point out. While Target has seen a minor decline in overall visit share compared to Target since January 2019, the relative balance of power does appear to be continuing. This is even more significant considering the high growth rate for Target visits in the last few years. The clear takeaway is that the two retail giants do not appear to be on any sort of direct collision course, and instead seem to be finding unique ways to complement each other for the wider consumer audience. 

Will Walmart and Target continue to thrive deeper into 2022? 

Visit the Placer.ai/blog to find out.

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