Retail giants such as Walmart, Target, and Costco saw their traffic surge over the pandemic, as mission-driven shoppers gravitated to these one-stop-shops. And the strength continued in 2022, with inflation driving budget-conscious consumers to superstores and wholesalers.
Now, although the economic headwinds appear to be holding back superstores and wholesalers traffic growth – the quality of visits may be improving even as the number of visits falls. To better understand the shift, we dove into the location analytics data to see what traffic patterns reveal about the state of superstore and wholesaler consumer behavior in 2023.
Traffic Dips Relative to 2022
Traffic to most superstore and wholesale chains was strong in 2022, with visits up relative to 2021. But now the growth seems to be stalling, with year-over-year (YoY) monthly visits in early 2023 down almost across the board. The one exception is Target, which saw a slight increase in both visits and visits per venue in Q1 2023 – perhaps thanks to its new larger-format stores which allow each venue to serve more customers.
Impact of Seasonality
Some of the visit dip of the recent months could be due to an exaggeration of regular seasonal trends. Superstore and wholesaler traffic tends to follow a cyclical pattern, with visits peaking around the holiday season before bottoming out at the beginning of each year. And in Q1 2023, traffic may have dipped slightly lower than usual as consumers tightened their belts in the face of the ongoing economic headwinds.
But a couple of months of weaker visit data during a typically slower period is not enough to draw conclusions regarding the health of the wider superstore and wholesale space.
Visit Numbers Don’t Capture the Full Story
Visit numbers show the quantity of visits going to the superstore and wholesale sector, but they don’t reveal too much regarding the quality of the visits. To complete the picture, analyzing other location intelligence metrics such as visit length and cross-shopping shares can provide a more holistic understanding of current consumer behavior in the space.
Diving into the visit quality metrics shows that median dwell time at leading superstores and wholesalers rose across the board between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023. Walmart saw the biggest increase, followed by Sam’s Club and Costco. The increase in median dwell time indicates that – although consumers may be visiting these chains less frequently – they seem to be doing more with each visit by filling larger carts and drawing out the time between each visit to save on gas costs.
Cross-Shopping Trends Indicate Consumers Looking to Fill Larger Carts
Recent cross-shopping trends offer another indication that visit quality is improving even as quantity decreases. Between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023, the share of Target and Walmart consumers who visited superstores also increased across the board – which could mean that consumers are looking for ways to stretch their budgets by consolidating shopping trips and buying essentials in bulk.
The increase in cross-shopping from superstores to wholesalers combined with the rise in median dwell time indicates that consumers are still finding significant value in the superstore and wholesale space – despite the overall drop in visits. And even the traffic dip itself may be more a reflection of normal seasonal fluctuations than of waning consumer interest.
As the economic headwinds continue taking a toll on consumer confidence, superstores and wholesalers are likely to maintain their advantage as one-stop-shops that help visitors stock up essentials while consolidating trips and saving on gas costs.
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