The mixed signals of the COVID-19 era continue to emerge. While overall U.S. retail hit record lows in March and April, some clear benefactors have emerged, and unsurprisingly, it’s the biggest players in the game.
Walmart and Target reported first-quarter 2020 earnings this week (Walmart is in fiscal year 2021), each reflecting a 10% increase in same-store sales despite stay-at-home orders across most of the country. On the digital front, Walmart logged an impressive 74% gain in e-commerce sales while Target’s e-comm business grew a whopping 141% when compared to last year. Target continues to make strides in its omnichannel business with stores fulfilling more than 80% of digital orders during the quarter. Target also says it saw a 278% increase in same-day services including online orders being picked-up in-store.
Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon says that the company identified three distinct waves of shopping within the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first was the stock-up and hoarding phase in which consumers went after consumables such as toilet paper and canned goods.
“We experienced unprecedented demand in categories like paper goods, surface cleaners, and grocery staples,” McMillion says. “For many of these items we were selling in two or three hours what we normally sell in two or three days.”
The second phase started a spike in the toy department as entertaining and educating at home came into focus as schools closed and parents shifted to a work-from-home model.
“Puzzles and video games took off. Parents became teachers. Adult bicycles started selling out as parents started to join the kids. An overlapping trend then started emerging related to DIY and home-related activities. Think games, home office, exercise equipment, and the like,” McMillon says. “It was also clear a lot of people were taking a do-it-yourself approach as they bought items like bandanas and sewing machines to make masks. We can see customers looking to improve their indoor and outdoor living spaces, our home categories in stores and online took off.”
Finally, the arrival of Federal stimulus checks began a new spike similar to what is often seen following yearly tax refunds. McMillion says that “discretionary categories really popped towards the end of the quarter,” with video games, sporting goods, and toys on the upswing.
Target CEO and Board Chairman Brian Cornell echoes much of the sentiment.
“As shelter-in-place rules were adopted across the country, guests began to pull back on store trips and we saw a dramatic surge in digital traffic and sales,” Cornell says. “We also began seeing a higher demand for products oriented around staying at home, including home office products, video games, puzzles, and board games.”
Cornell says that electronics comps shot up 40% as demand for video games increased nationwide.