- Costco commanded 55.4% of visits to wholesale clubs in March, more than 3 percentage points above the retailer's market share during the same month in 2020, according to data released by Placer.ai.
- In a sign of strength for the wholesale retail sector, foot traffic at Costco rose 4.1% in March on a year-over-year basis and was up 7.8% and 11.4% at Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club, respectively, Placer's report shows.
- Costco is solidifying its leadership position in the wholesale space as consumer behavior shows signs of returning to normal following the disruptions brought on by the pandemic.
Costco's position atop the wholesale club space is stronger now than it was before the COVID-19 crisis hit even though visits to the retailer were down last year compared with 2019.
The retailer saw foot traffic slide 2.1% in 2020 while visits to BJ's were up 13% and Sam's Club recorded a 4.3% increase in foot traffic, but that dynamic shifted significantly as 2021 got underway. Costco's 55.4% share of wholesale club visits in March of 2021 was a 3.4 percentage point increase from the 52% of visits the company controlled in March 2020. Meanwhile, BJ's saw the 10% share of the sector's foot traffic it boasted in March 2020 slide to 8.5% on a year-over-year basis, and Sam's Club's chunk dropped from 38% to 36.2%.
Costco could be poised for especially strong growth in California, where more than a fifth of its stores are located, because visits to those locations have recently lagged behind foot traffic at Costco stores in other parts of the country, according to Placer.
The percentage of wholesale club shoppers who visited more than one chain has also increased. In April, 8.9% of Costco customers also patronized a Sam's Club location, up from 7.7% during the same period in 2020, according to Placer — a sign of strength for the whole club arena given that more people were directing business to both brands at the same time both companies saw foot traffic go up.
Costco's latest sales figures underscore the company's strength as the pandemic's grip on the economy loosens and people gain confidence about spending time in public places. Comparable store sales in the United States, where Costco operates more than 550 warehouses, were up 24.9% during the four weeks that ended May 2 compared with the same period in 2020, Costco reported on May 5.
Costco had 58.1 million members at the end of 2020, up from 53.9 million members at the conclusion of 2019, according to the retailer's most recent annual report.
Regardless of where they rank compared with each other, Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's are among the best-positioned retailers to take advantage of the uncertainty likely to pervade the economy during the months to come, according to Placer's Vice President of Marketing Ethan Chernofsky.
"If shoppers want to venture out less, they purchase more with each trip, and if they want to venture out more, they purchase slightly less. However you add it up, shoppers still come and they still convert," Chernofsky wrote in a blog post about the research firm's findings.