Walmart is a powerhouse. You'd expect Walmart foot traffic data to echo much of the same story. As much a real estate investor and developer as a retail brand, the undisputed king of the big box has penetrated every nook and cranny of the U.S. landscape. By sheer total volume of national foot traffic, no other brand gets close. That is, until you examine the regional picture.
Suddenly, new brands jump onto the map. Together, they actually dominate foot traffic over Walmart in a collective 24 states. In some cases, it’s not even close. Among brands that pop out are two coffee retailers (Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts), and a fast food stalwart (McDonalds).
Where do these brands break through to compete feet-for-feet with the world’s largest retailer? Which states may be up for grabs? To find out, we looked at 14 leading brands’ foot traffic data from Q1 of 2021 and 2022, with an eye towards unearthing competitive intelligence insights of use in 2023.
In terms of total foot traffic, Walmart dominates with a Q1 peak of ~167 million visits in the last week of March 2021. Walmart’s two year Q1 trend has been to achieve lower foot traffic gains vs some other brands, i.e. Walmart had about ~10% YoY peak growth around the end of February 2022, whereas Starbucks achieved ~32% peak growth around the same time. That said, Walmart’s foot traffic basement is also lower than others (e.g. a late March drop of ~13% vs Best Buy’s drop of ~29% around the same time).
Starbucks beats everyone in Washington State, California and Nevada, with 3% to 7% more Q1 foot traffic than Walmart. McDonald’s holds down Hawaii, Alaska, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware and Vermont, with Walmart ranked 2nd or 3rd in each state.
Dunkin’ Donuts has a stranglehold on much of the northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire. Walmart ranks as high as 2nd in some of these states, and as low as 4th in the key market of New York.
In the areas between, competition rages in several states, with brands such as Publix, Kroger, Target and Costco pushing into the top 3 brands by Q1 foot traffic. Let’s examine a few of those battlegrounds to see what we can learn.
Pennsylvania is basically a toss-up. Walmart edges McDonalds by less than half a percentage point. This is also ground zero in the coffee wars, and the demarcation point for Dunkin’ Donuts northeast dominance over Starbucks. Target rounds out the Top 5 brands by Q1 foot traffic in PA. Minnesota is a neck-and-neck three horse race among Walmart. McDonald’s and Target.
In the south, grocery brands enter the competitive fray. Publix claims 2nd place overall for Q1 traffic in Florida, about seven percentage points behind Walmart, and narrowly edging out McDonalds. Kroger rises to 3rd in Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia, where Burger King also pings on the Top 5 radar.
Oregon is a ‘pick-em’ state. The differential between #1 McDonalds and #2 Walmart is negligible. Starbucks is not far behind with nearly 19% total foot traffic share. Big box retailers Costco and Target round out the Top 5. In the massive California market, the difference between #1 ranked Starbucks and #5 Costco is less than 11% of the state’s total weekly foot traffic, with McDonald’s, Walmart and Target all jammed in between.
How can these insights inform each brands’ competitive intelligence? We’ll get into that next.
Competitive Intelligence Interpretations
McDonalds once had a presence in 500 Walmart stores nationwide but since 2020 has moved to cut that to about 150 co-located stores. That leaves a void that could be filled by Burger King or another fast food competitor looking to ride Walmart’s foot traffic wake.
Starbucks is dominant in California where their partner Target sits 4th. Expanding the partnership with more co-locations here could increase foot traffic share for each. This is also the case in other markets where Costco’s traffic lags other big box stores, including Texas, Florida and Ohio.
Dunkin Donuts doesn’t need assistance holding down the northeast, but the brand will require significant help to push much further west than Ohio. A co-locating or operating partnership with select regional powers makes strategic sense, marking grocery store brand Kroger an interesting option in the Great Lakes area.
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