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Shopper Visits Up at Smaller Grocery Chains in Early ‘23

Placer.ai’s Q1 foot traffic report also reveals moderation in dollar/discount and superstore trips
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Grocery shopper
Smaller grocery chains experienced an uptick in store visits during the first few weeks of the year, according to data from Placer.ai.

Placer.ai, which tracks retail foot traffic data, has found that there was was a bit of reshuffling in the first quarter of 2023. If the proverbial pivot was a hallmark of the pandemic era, consumers continue to step in different directions, depending on their circumstances.

According to Placer.ai’s recently released index on Q1 trends, visits to discount and dollar stores leveled off a bit during that time frame. Although traffic at deep-discount retailers is still ahead of 2022 levels, growth was not as “marked” as it has been over the past couple of years. Dollar Tree had the biggest bump in store visits, up 7.4% during the quarter, while Ollie’s Bargain Outlet saw a 7.2% increase in traffic and Bargain Hunt notched a 5.2% gain. Visits to Dollar General were down 3.8% during the opening quarter of the year, Los Altos, Calif.-based Placer.ai found.

Shoppers also scaled back trips to superstores in the first few months of this year, seemingly consolidating visits to maximize their spend. Within this sector, Placer.ai found that Walmart leads in foot traffic, with 57.8% of superstore share of visits by chain, followed by Target, with 21.6%; Costco, with 11.4%; Sam’s Club, with 7.6%; and “other” chains, at 1.6%.

Meanwhile, grocery store visits are down from pandemic highs and tempered a bit by ongoing high inflation, including trips to major chains. That said, Placer.ai’s data showed that visits to some smaller chains rose during the first quarter, and that these retailers have benefited from footprint expansions.

According to Placer.ai’s data, top-performing grocers in Q1 included Metro Market, a Milwaukee-area banner of The Kroger Co. that saw a 17.9% leap in quarterly visits. Trips were also up at Grocery Outlet (11.6%), Trader Joe’s (8.8%), H Mart (5.3%), WinCo Foods (3.6%), Market Basket (3.4%) and ALDI (1.4 percent).

Placer.ai also noted that consumers who switched to dollar stores and superstores may return to grocery stores as food retailers expand and promote their private label product lines that are priced competitively. The firm’s first-quarter report concluded, “Despite the economic headwinds, there is still room for growth in the grocery space.”

For those keeping a competitive eye on food away from home, Placer.ai also gauged foot traffic at dining establishments. According to the Q1 data, visits to dining chains declined in the latter part of the period, signaling that the recovery of the restaurant business is being slowed by ongoing concerns about the economy. Dining establishments may pick back up again if consumers “make peace with higher prices,” Placer.ai analysts added.

Placer.ai’s quarterly index is available online.

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