The retail slow-down of the second half of Q1 2023 largely continued in April and May, with foot traffic to many categories down relative to 2022 levels. But visit trends began showing improvement towards the end of Q2 2023, indicating that the consumer spending slump may be drawing to a close. And with a variety of promotional events coming up – from owned retail holidays in July to Back to School and Labor Day sales in August and September – the coming months may well bring a significant retail turnaround.
The Q2 2023 Quarterly Index dives into the location analytics data for seven key retail and retail-adjacent categories to make sense of Q2 and better understand what may lie ahead in the second half of the year. The report analyzes quarterly and weekly visits for the Fitness, Car Wash, Discount & Dollar Stores, Superstores, Dining, Grocery, and Mall industries and looks at leading retailers in each category to provide a broad overview of Q2 2023 and assess the landscape ahead of the critical summer months.
Although overall year-over-year (YoY) retail visits were down slightly in Q2 2023, some categories managed to pull ahead. Between April and June 2023, the Fitness and the Car Wash sectors saw a 19.3% and 18.5% increase in visits, respectively, relative to the same period in 2022. YoY visits to Discount & Dollar Stores also rose as consumers looked for ways to stretch their budgets. Foot traffic to the Grocery category remained steady, and the Dining sector also performed surprisingly well – perhaps thanks to some consumers shifting their spending away from physical goods and towards services.
Meanwhile, YoY quarterly visits for Superstores fell by 2.4% as many shoppers cut down on discretionary spending to focus on essentials. Foot traffic to Malls, with their focus on discretionary items, also dipped 2.7%.
The Fitness category – which made a somewhat surprising post-pandemic comeback in 2022 – continues to impress, with YoY weekly visits up by double digits for all of Q2 2023. The segment’s ongoing success may be attributed to a confluence of factors. The COVID-era heightened interest in health and wellness appears to remain strong, and Americans who took on exercise during the pandemic may be keeping up with their workouts now that gyms have reopened, driving visits up. And since most leading chains offer affordable membership options, consumers who paid the monthly fee may be opting for more frequent gym visits in lieu of pricier entertainment or socializing.
The current strength of offline Fitness shines even brighter when diving into the visit data for leading chains within the category. While some brands saw greater visit gains than others, the foot traffic boost appears to be benefiting a wide variety of chains, from larger, more established chains such as LA Fitness to smaller, newer players such as EōS Fitness. The strength within this category over the past year – after some speculated that offline Fitness would never return post-pandemic – is a testament to the constant fluctuations and unpredictability of the brick-and-mortar retail and services space.
The Car Wash category was another major Q2 2023 winner, seeing positive YoY weekly visits throughout the quarter despite the wider headwinds. Many chains offer membership packages that offer unlimited car washes for a flat fee, which may explain the category’s recent increase in visits as consumers seize on the affordable luxury of a sparkling clean car.
And a strong performance in the face of challenges isn’t the only thing setting the segment apart from the pack. Unlike most of the other categories analyzed, where one or two major players control the majority of the visit share, the Car Wash segment is relatively diversified – Mister Car Wash, the largest chain, only serves 18.4% of visits to the category. And although visits to most categories spiked the week of Mother’s Day, the Car Wash category saw the lowest YoY visit increase of the quarter during that week – highlighting the seasonal differences in visitation patterns between different segments.
The Car Wash visit increase was not limited to any one player – foot traffic increased to many category leaders in Q2, in large part thanks to the companies’ expansions and acquisitions. Take 5 – which enjoyed 7.2% of the overall visit share in Q2 – saw its visits grow by a whopping 98.8%, likely due to its massive expansion through its franchising agreement with Driven Brands. Super Star Car Wash and Quick Quack have increased their footprint recently as well, which likely contributed to their YoY visits jumping 54.3% and 33.7%, respectively. Expansions also led to visit increases for Zips and Tidal Wave.
Meanwhile, Mister Car Wash – the visit share leader in Q2 – saw a 4.8% YoY increase in visits, an impressive achievement given the company’s existing footprint.
Following a strong Q1 2023, YoY visits to Discount & Dollar Stores continued their upward trajectory in Q2. Weekly visits to the category were up almost every week of the quarter, with YoY weekly foot traffic up by 3.7% to 9.7% since mid-May. Dollar Tree and Dollar General continue to lead the pack, with a 39.4% and 32.9% visit share, respectively, in Q2 2023 – and the chains are likely to hold on to their lead as they continue expanding throughout the country.
Five Below has also been expanding aggressively and seeing a corresponding increase in visits. Other chains, including Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, Ocean State Job Lot, and Bargain Hunt, also enjoyed sizable YoY traffic boosts in Q2 as consumers continued favoring budget-friendly retailers in the face of persistent inflation.
But perhaps the most impressive growth in the Dollar & Discount space over the past quarter belongs to Dollar Tree. The company has seen visits to both the Dollar Tree brand and its Family Dollar chain rise 10.5% and 5.1%, respectively, YoY – no easy feat given their already relatively large footprints.
The Grocery category appears to have made a comeback this quarter, with just two out of 13 weeks seeing a significant drop in YoY visits. And since the week of May 8th, Grocery foot traffic has remained on par – or exceeded – last year’s traffic levels, which suggests that the cooling food inflation may be bringing consumers back to supermarkets.
Visit data from Q2 also reveals the fragmentation in the brick-and-mortar Grocery market – while several larger companies did command a significant share of visits, a full 58.5% of Grocery visits went to smaller chains.
The upturn in Grocery visits has positively impacted several chains within the category, with players such as WinCo Foods, Aldi, and H-E-B seeing a YoY increase in visits of 5.5%, 5.4%, and 2.5%, respectively. But the real winner of the Q2 was Trader Joe’s, where quarterly visits rose by 9.7% relative to Q2 2022. The beloved California-based chain recently expanded its presence throughout the country, and visit data indicates that demand for the chain’s private-label, affordably-priced goods is strong as ever.
A foot traffic recovery is also underway in the Dining sector, with the visit gap progressively narrowing in the second half of the quarter until finally swinging positive during the last two weeks of Q2. Several newer chains are showing promising growth numbers, and established visit leaders are also attracting diners to their venues. These visit trends also suggest that consumers are finally ready to engage in discretionary spending once again, following several months of budgeting and saving – just in time for the busy summer season.
The uptick in Dining visits becomes more evident when diving into the location analytics for specific chains across the Dining subcategories – Fast Food & QSR, Full-Service Restaurants, and Breakfast, Coffee & Dessert Shops – seeing YoY visit growth. Within the Fast Food & QSR category, McDonlald’s, Popeyes, and KFC saw their visits increase 8.4%, 7.5%, and 6.8% YoY. Foot traffic to leading full-service restaurant chains, including Cooper’s Hawk, Texas Roadhouse, and Yard House, and coffee brands such as Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Tim Hortons, was also up YoY.
Although the first week of the quarter saw Superstore visits up YoY – likely due to calendar differences and between Easter 2023 and Easter 2022 – the strength was short-lived, and the YoY visit gap widened significantly the following week. But since mid-May, the YoY weekly visit gaps remained below 4.0%, and the last two weeks of Q2 even saw YoY visit trends swing positive. The foot traffic rebound trends appears to be just in time for the critical summer months – several Superstore leaders are holding major sales events in July, and August’s Back-to-School season is likely to also bring some additional relief to the category.
While the Superstore category as a whole saw its foot traffic drop 2.4% YoY in Q2 2023, one retailer – Costco Wholesale – actually experienced visit gains, perhaps thanks to the company’s ongoing expansion. Sam’s Club – owned by Walmart – also outperformed the category average, with visits staying relatively close to 2022 levels. Meanwhile, Target and Walmart both saw their YoY quarterly visits dip 2.8%, and foot traffic to BJ’s Wholesale Club fell 4.1% – although many of these brands also saw an overall increase in dwell time, which may be offsetting the very small drop in visits.
YoY visits to Malls began trending down mid-Q1 and remained negative – with the exception of Easter week – throughout early May. But the week of Mother’s Day (May 8th - 14th) appears to have turned the tide, with visit gaps following the week of Mother’s Day significantly smaller than they had been before. In fact, since the week of May 22nd - 28th, the YoY visit gap to malls narrowed week after week before foot traffic finally swung positive towards the end of the quarter – just in time for the critical Back-to-School season.
While all Mall categories stayed close to 2022 levels in Q2, Open-Air Lifestyle Centers outperformed the other segments, with visits just 0.1% lower than in Q2 2022. The format’s success may have to do with the all-in-one shopping, entertainment, dining, and socializing experience it provides. An analysis of several top performing open-air lifestyle centers also indicates that this format attracts a relatively affluent audience, which may have been less impacted by the recent inflation.
The Fitness category continues to impress, perhaps thanks to the category’s relative affordability and the increased interest in health and wellness over the past couple of years.
The Car Wash sector was another Q2 2023 winner, with many leading chains expanding their footprints significantly and seeing a corresponding increase in visits.
Discount & Dollar Stores continued their upward trajectory in Q2 2023, as budget-conscious shoppers continued to hunt for bargains and category leaders continued expanding their product offerings.
Grocery foot traffic appears to have rebounded in Q2 2023, perhaps thanks to cooling food inflation bringing consumers back to supermarkets.
YoY visits to the Dining category trended positive towards the end of the quarter, following weeks of narrowing visit gaps – another indication that shoppers are ready to engage in discretionary spending again.
Superstores continued to experience YoY visit gaps for much of Q2 2023, although the category also saw positive YoY traffic numbers during the last two weeks of the quarter – just in time for Back to School and July promotional events.
Malls made a comeback in the second half of the quarter, with the last two weeks also bringing positive YoY visit growth. Open-Air Lifestyle Centers performed particularly well, with visits on par with last year’s visit levels.