Placer: Costco Store Traffic In COVID-19 Crisis Suggests Strength

Costco’s store traffic has been a highlight of its performance through the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., according to traffic tracker Placer.ai.

Even as public movement restrictions and self-imposed rules to maintain social distancing had the effect of depressing traffic numbers, Placer noted, the relative vitality of the store business was noteworthy.

For Costco, 2020 kicked off with strong traffic momentum as January visits rose 2.6% year-over-year. As the coronavirus crisis kicked in, February visits spiked up 10.5%. Inevitably, traffic stumbled in March after initial growth, driven heavily by Costco’s self-imposed restrictions on visit numbers and times. This led to March visits dropping 0.8% year over year before April bottomed out with a 28.2% decline versus the year earlier.

Still, year over year, March through May 2020, store visit duration increased 4.7%, time that could translate into larger average basket size. In announcing April sales, Costco reported that comparable sales in the month excluding gasoline, foreign exchange and results from ancillary businesses that the company had closed or offered with limited service, such as optical, travel, food court, hearing aids and photo, were up 11.2% in the U.S., 1.5% in Canada and 4.3% in international markets, for a company total of 8.6%.

Placer added that Costco store visits grew 2.3% in the week of May 4 through 10 versus the one prior, even before the company, on May 15, announced the end of certain designated visitor restrictions.

Certain changes to customer behavior could benefit Costco in the longer run, Placer indicated. Costco saw Monday through Thursday visits rise from 47.9% to 56% of shoppers during the period, off typical prime shopping times and demonstrating that consumers are shopping the club more flexibly. Beside suggesting consumers are willing to shop Costco on more varied occasions, the number also signals that the company is gaining in building operational efficiency.