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Lululemon v Athleta: Holiday Shopping Foot Traffic

When we checked in on the competition between apparel retailers lululemon and Athleta in October 2021, lululemon was outperforming its rival nationwide, while Athleta held an advantage in 11 state markets and several metro areas, such as Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Dallas. 

Altogether, that picture holds true for the holiday shopping season based on foot traffic data from October 3 to November 27. Lululemon stores received 3.1 million visits during that period to Athleta’s 1.7 million. And Athleta is leading in 10 states, just about even with the 11 in which it was leading over the summer.

There do appear to have been some shifts in the Athleta-lululemon competition. 
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Over the summer, Athleta was leading lululemon in New Hampshire and Connecticut. Now, Athleta trails lululemon 52 to 48% in Connecticut, and the brands are in a virtual tie in New Hampshire, where just about 400 visits separate them over the holiday season. 

By contrast, Athleta has gained ground in Kansas, where it is virtually tied with lululemon with 50% market share apiece, and Wisconsin, where it is still behind but gaining customers at a much faster clip than its competitor. Both brands might benefit from digging into the data to determine whether these shifts are ephemeral or represent more meaningful operational changes. 

As for metro areas, Athleta retained a significant advantage in Philadelphia, where it led lululemon with 65% of local visitation market share. In Cincinnati, Athleta captured 56% of visits, in St. Louis 63%, and in Dallas 64%. What’s more, in all four of these significant metro areas, Athleta’s foot traffic is sloping upwards, sometimes sharply, an encouraging sign for holiday sales. 

Athleta might investigate these bright spots to determine whether its success is replicable; lululemon would do well to consider why it is falling behind in these metro areas given its broader success. 

Is Athleta’s edge in these cities reducible to store footprint, or are there marketing and operational factors at play?

Finally, let’s consider overall retail consumption during this year’s holiday season relative to 2020 and 2019. Here are the total visitation numbers:

Oct 3 to Nov 27, 2021

Lululemon: 3.1 million

Athleta: 1.7 million

Oct 4 to Nov 28, 2020

Lululemon: 2.9 million

Athleta: 1.7 million

Oct 6 to Nov 30, 2019

Lululemon: 5.6 million 

Athleta: 2.6 million 

2021’s performance is much more similar to that of 2020, a pre-mass vaccination pandemic year, than it is to 2019’s. Somewhat surprisingly, Athleta and lululemon’s foot traffic appears to have remained about constant from 2020, when vaccinations were not available, to 2021, when most of the adult population was vaccinated and shoppers should, in theory, have felt more comfortable visiting brick-and-mortar stores. 

The consistency between 2020 and 2021’s foot traffic numbers might indicate that shoppers have simply gotten more comfortable doing their holiday errands online, limiting the share of sales that location data captures. 

Unequivocally, though, foot traffic is sharply down from 2019, when visits were 80% higher at lululemon and 53% higher at Athleta. 

COVID is still having a massive impact on in-store foot traffic, forcing retailers to double down on the investments they made in e-commerce and digital marketing in 2020. The data here indicate that the pronounced shift to digital in the year of COVID is here for the long run.

The retail landscape evolves quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption throughout the US market in all retail categories. But how does that play out for an individual brand on a practical level, and how can mobility data detect the changes, measure their effects, and inform decision-making for retailers?

To find out, we used data from Unacast NOW to take a look at how Athleta is faring across the US over the summer of 2021. To provide context, we compared Athleta to lululemon, with special focus in markets where the two compete head to head. The interactive table in this post shows the results. Athleta is in purple, lululemon in red.

The two brands compete head to head in several markets across the country. Between June 12 and August 14, 2021, Athleta outperformed lululemon overall in 11 states: Montana, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

When we adjust the view on the table above to select 'MSA' from the drop down menu, we see that Athleta, while losing other states to lululemon, is nonetheless doing well in several urban markets, including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Dallas, and several mid-sized cities dotted across the map.

Athleta's strongest-performing store in terms of controlling the highest percentage of foot traffic in its local market is in Birmingham, Alabama — that store draws about 83% of the local category traffic. The brand's lowest-performing location by the same criteria is one of its several stores in New York City, which draws only about .2% of the city's very large market.

Use the table above to study Athleta's foot traffic performance by state, MSA, or individual store. If you'd like to know how to build insights like this yourself (no data science degree required), watch the little video below and get a free trial of Unacast Now. Or, you can download the Tableau Workbook by entering your email in the form above.

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