Bulk Wars: Warehouse Clubs Battling it Out for Consumer Dollars
Have you found that you are buying more stuff in bulk than ever before? You’re not alone. In 2020, there was a surge in bulk purchases – primarily toilet paper, pasta, soap, tinned foods and disinfectant. While some of those purchases may have been panic-driven amid the worst period of the pandemic, the number of consumers engaged in bulk buying has increased fairly steadily since the first warehouse club opened in the late 1970s.
Virtually all the big box retailers with a warehouse concept benefited from consumers loading up on essential goods last year – reporting increases in memberships, sales and average purchase totals. Let’s take a look at some of the major players.
BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings Inc. (Tii:BJ)
Founded in 1984, BJ’s has long been the scrappy up-and-comer among wholesale clubs, but the company’s record 2020 performance certainly makes them a serious contender in the space. The bulk retailer now has over 6 million members, $12.7 billion in annual sales and operates 221 clubs and 150 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states. The company reported record fourth quarter and fiscal 2020 results, including a 168% growth in digitally-enabled sales. With the strong results, it’s no surprise that the warehouse club is expanding this year, announcing new locations in Long Island City, NY and Newburgh, NY.
Costco Wholesale Corporation (Tii:COST)
With more people choosing to buy in bulk, Costco saw revenue from membership dues increase by 7% in their most recent quarter. The company manages 804 warehouses, of which 558 are located in 45 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. With 108.3 million cardholders in 59.7 million households and $163.2 billion in fiscal 2020 sales, Costco is the second-largest retailer globally. Another beneficiary of the bulk buying trend, Costco reported fiscal first-quarter net sales of $42.35 billion, an increase of 16.9% from last year.
Target Corporation (Tii:TGT)
Target has increased its bulk offerings over the years to compete more directly with Costco. The retailer began offering oversized packaged goods such as garbage bags, paper towels and toilet paper back in 2010. With the increase in online ordering during the pandemic, Target increased bulk offerings for various household essentials shipped straight from their warehouses to customers’ homes. During 2020, the average customer’s transaction amount increased by 15% as consumers stocked up on essential goods. Target’s 2020 sales growth of more than $15 billion was greater than its total sales growth over the prior 11 years.
Walmart Inc. (Tii:WMT)
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the retail space remains Walmart. With nearly 600 clubs across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Walmart’s Sam’s Club warehouse club division is one of the larger players in the bulk-buying space. While Sam’s Club did not experience the large jump in revenues and earnings as did its competitors – a 1.7% increase to $58.8 billion for fiscal 2020 – consumers instead gravitated to online purchases at Walmart itself. As a result, the retail giant reported that the average order increased 20% last year.
As long as consumers go on making bulk purchases en masse, these retailers are likely to continue their winning streak through 2021 at least.