Coronavirus sales boost at wholesale clubs started weeks ago

Now that the coronavirus has entered the United States and been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the public response is expected to have far reaching effects across U.S. consumer industries, from grocery stores to luxury travel. Across the country, recent panic buying has led to long lines, overflowing carts, and empty shelves. But transaction data reveals that the buying frenzy started several weeks earlier. The last week of February, Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s Wholesale were already seeing an uptick in year-over-year sales.

Second Measure on Coronavirus Stockpiling: In one week, Costco's YTD YoY sales rose two percentage points.

Costco saw cumulative year-over-year sales growth increase by over two percentage points throughout the week of February 24 to March 1. During that same period at BJ’s Wholesale, year-over-year growth—which had been nearly flat—rose to almost 3 percent. And at Sam’s Club, which is owned by mega-retailer Walmart, sales grew by three percentage points, up to 10 percent year-over-year growth. (Some Walmart transactions cannot be attributed to one of its brands.)

Coronavirus shoppers lead to double-digit basket size growth

The week-long rise in year-over-year sales was driven, in part, by larger transaction totals, as wholesale shoppers spent more than they had earlier in the year, on average. Basket (or cart) sizes in preparation for the coronavirus were largest at Costco, where the average customer spent $107 the week of February 24 to March 1, up 12% over prior spending this year.

Second Measure on Coronavirus Stockpiling: At Costco, average transaction totals the week of Feb 24 - Mar 1 were $107.

BJ’s Wholesale saw purchase totals grow the most and, that week, average transaction values were 21% greater than average spending earlier this year. Sam’s Club also saw basket sizes increase the week of February 24 – March 1, up by $11 to $84.

Less than two percent of coronavirus shoppers were new customers

While coronavirus stockpilers are spending more than usual, it’s overwhelmingly the stores’ established bases cramming the aisles, not new members. Though it varies slightly by retailer, new customers typically account for 0.7% to 1.5% of total traffic. In the week of February 24 – March 1, those numbers held steady despite elevated sales.

Second Measure on Coronavirus Stockpiling: At wholesale clubs, less than 2% of customers were new the week of Feb 24 - Mar 1.

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