Thanks for Visiting!

Register for free to get the full story.

Sign Up
Already have a account? Log In

Wholesale Giants

Ethan Chernofsky
March 2, 2021
Wholesale Giants

Prior to the pandemic, Costco has been among the most consistently strong performers in all of retail with year over year visit growth essentially a given. On the other hand, BJ’s Wholesale had been the clear third wheel in the battle for wholesale club supremacy. Yet, since the pandemic, visits to the former have been up and down, while BJ’s has been one of the most impressive players with near ongoing year-over-year growth.

So what does it all mean and how did traffic unfold in late 2020 and January 2021?

Wholesale Battles

Costco kicked off 2020 with its usual strength before watching the pandemic shift shopping behaviors and throw visits down year over year. The result was an up and down rest of 2020 where only four of the months showed year-over-year visit growth. Critically, though all four of those months came in the second half of the year showing that as the wider retail sector recovered, Costco re-gained its footing in overall visit growth. Even more, the likely only reason Costco dipped in late 2020 and early 2021 was a combination of inclement weather and surging COVID cases.

BJ’s, on the other hand, followed an up and down 2019 with a stellar 2020 where every month showed major year-over-year visit growth except pre-pandemic January. And the trend sustained throughout the year, with the brand averaging 13.8% monthly year-over-year growth in visits in the second half of 2020. This continued into 2021 with visits up 13.8% year over year in January. 

Yet, a deeper look is critical especially when trying to contextualize Costco’s performance. For example, while year-over-year visits in January 2021 were down 2.3%, when comparing the same month with January 2019, visits were actually up 0.9%. So, while Costco is certainly seeing different visit patterns, when looking at performance through a longer-term lens, the strength is still obvious.

And that comes into greater focus when we compare the declines in overall visits alongside declines in visits per visitor. Looking at November 2020 through January 2021, Costco saw an overall visit decline of 1.7% during that period year over year. This is already impressive considering the rise in COVID cases in November and the inclement weather that hit key regions for the brand in late January. However, during this same period the number of visits per visitor dropped far more precipitously. So while visits were only down 1.7%, visits per visitor were down a far larger 28.9% year over year. 

This indicates that Costco is still seeing the heavy impact of mission-driven shopping, where visitors look to accomplish more with each visit driving larger basket sizes alongside fewer overall visits. But the gap between these two numbers is very important. A massive decline in visits per visitor alongside a fairly minor drop in overall visits shows that Costco may actually be stronger than it's ever been and that the brand is likely adding new members at a very high rate. If this is so, and considering the ‘stickiness’ of the membership club model, Costco can likely come out of the pandemic stronger than ever before. 

The conclusion that Costco is actually as strong, if not stronger, than it's ever been is further supported by visit share data. When looking at the visit share between Costco and BJ’s in January 2020, Costco held 87.7% of overall visits. In 2021, that number declined only slightly to 86.0% - showing that even amid BJ’s surge, Costco was still keeping nearly the same overall lead.

Moving Forward

The critical conclusion here is twofold. First, Costco performed exceptionally well during the pandemic and there is a very compelling argument to be made that the brand has never been stronger. Viewing visits within the visits per visitor and visit share context show that the brand is still benefiting from mission-driven shopping and likely adding many new members. The result should be tremendous excitement in the brand’s potential moving deeper into 2021.

The second conclusion centers around BJ’s Wholesale Club. The brand remains one of the most exciting, considering the huge leap forward made during COVID, but a real test remains on whether it can sustain that beyond the pandemic. On the bright side, it has many factors working in its favor. The value orientation is exceptionally compelling in periods of economic uncertainty like we expect to see in the coming years, and the membership club model is very unstable. Should BJ’s prove capable in building on this momentum, the potential for the brand’s reach should only grow.

Will Costco prove out the thesis that its strength has actually increased? Can BJ’s Wholesale continue to thrive?

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.
4 Strategies Retailers are Using to Drive Traffic to Their Venues
5 Key Regional Grocery Players Impressing in 2023
Upscale Kitchenware Trending Up
Costco Finds More Room for Growth
Four C-Store Chains Making an A-Grade
National Parks + Outdoor Summer Activities
Diving Into Darden: Summer 2023 Update
The Summer Event Effect
Messi: Massive in Miami
Looking Back on Back to School 2023
The Anchor Recap: August 2023 Office Index: August 2023 Recap Mall Index: August 2023 Recap White Paper Recap: August 2023
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Strikes Again
Big Scoop: We All Scream For Ice Cream
Sports Away: Lululemon & Nike’s Momentum Continues
Summer Visits Heat Up For Recreation and Outdoor Gear Chains
No CSS overwrite - July 2023 Office Index Recap
Staging - August 2023 Mall Indec
Mid-Atlantic Grocery Deep Dive
Experiential Chains Heating Up This Summer
Petco Goes Big by Going Small
Ulta Beauty: Leading the Discretionary Pack
Discount and Dollar Chains Continue to Thrive
Summer of Sports: DICK’s Sporting Goods and Hibbett Sports
Off-Price: Succeeding Into Summer
The Anchor Recap: July 2023
Superstores Maintaining Pandemic Gains Amidst Economic Headwinds
2023: Home Improvement at the Halfway Point
July 2023 Office Index Recap Mall Index: July 2023 Recap
widget test
The Taylor Swift Visit Lift
Southwestern Grocery Dive
July 2023 White Paper Recap: Halfway Point Review & Quarterly Index
Yum! Brands: Driving Dining Visits
Slurpees and Summer Movies Stimulate Consumer Foot Traffic
Cool Beans: Summer Coffee Update
Checking In on Back to School 2023
Crocs and New Balance Tip The Scales
Burger Bliss: Shake Shack and In-N-Out Stacking Visits
Chipotle & McDonald's Continue to Reign Supreme
Vibenomics and Partner to Enhance Retail Media In-Store Measurement
California Grocers Here We Come!
Marriott’s Different Audiences
Bonchon and Kura Sushi Thrive in the Fast-Casual Scene
A Shoe In: Footwear Climbs to the Top
Cheers! Raising a Glass to Beverage Retail Office Index: June 2023 Recap Mall Index June 2023 Recap – A Turn of the Tide and a Dive into Open-Air Lifestyle Centers
Local Kitchens: Redefining the Restaurant
Unlocking Urban Insights: The Value in Manhattan’s Employees
Ohio State Parks On The Rise
How is Inflation Impacting the High-Income Shoppers?
Five Fast-Growing Dining Chains
What To Expect From Prime Day and July Sales Events in 2023
The State Of Fashion: How Are Apparel Retailers Faring in 2023?
2023’s Latest Dining Success Story: GEN Korean BBQ House
The NBA Finals: A Location Intelligence Perspective
Moving the Market: The Impact of Domestic Migration on Housing Costs
Post-Pandemic Museum Update
The Darden-est Things
The Enduring Demand for Urban and Suburban Retail
Leveraging Data to Evaluate the Impact of Municipal Investments
Trader Joe's Success Amidst Food Inflation and Changing Consumer Behavior Office Index: May 2023 Recap
Fitness at its Fittest: Staying Strong in 2023
Movie Theaters, Off-Price, and Home Improvement: May 2023 Recap Mall Index - May 2023 Recap
What’s Working for Bath & Body Works?
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?