Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership

Target trounced rivals like Walmart in the third quarter

November 18, 2020, 2:20 PM UTC

On Wednesday, Target reported another set of blistering quarterly financial results that show how well its merchandise and e-commerce strategies are working, enabling the discount chain to outdo its peers, notably longtime rivals such as Walmart and Kohl’s.

Comparable sales at Target rose 20.7% in the quarter ended Oct. 31, stemming from the popularity of its newer home furnishings, its Good & Gather food brand, and the Cat & Jack kids’ clothing line. That was nearly twice the 11.6% growth analysts had been expecting, according to Consensus Metrix, sending shares up 2.5% in premarket trading. Digital sales rose 155% thanks to its investments in same-day delivery and curbside pickup options that are popular with shoppers during the pandemic.

“It’s clear that Target is not only gaining new customers but also retaining them, which will be critical as we move into 2021,” Chuck Grom, an analyst with Gordon Haskett, wrote in a note.

Walmart also reported strong numbers earlier this week, with e-commerce rising 78% and overall comparable sales rising 6.4%. Because groceries represent half of Walmart’s sales and are typically something people still buy in store much more than other categories, an astronomical lift is harder for Walmart to pull off.

Both chains, with their massive product assortments, have benefited from shoppers consolidating trips to reduce time in stores during the pandemic, meaning they’ve taken market share from weaker rivals.

But one crucial area where Target handily bested Walmart and most other retailers, was its ability to get people into stores, a feat all the more remarkable during a pandemic. Comparable sales at Target’s physical stores were up 9.9%.

And shopper visits rose 4.5%, the benefit of a $7 billion program in the past three years to remodel and beautify its stores, improve categories that drive customer traffic like beauty products, and better focus its smaller but important food offering. In contrast, at Walmart, store comparable sales were up a modest 0.7%, while the number of transactions was way down.

Target has invested heavily in the visual presentation of its products, making shopping enticing, all the more crucial given how much it relies on impulse purchases.

“Being able to draw people in for fun is one of the hallmarks of retail success, especially during a pandemic,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData.

A big draw has been Target’s fortuitous investment pre-pandemic on new home products, just in time for a spending boom on home improvement that has lifted other retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well.

“Home continues to be a focal point,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told reporters on a media call. “With all that time at home, guests are cooking more and replacing home decor.” Cornell said home goods sales rose by a mid-20s percentage last quarter.

Other categories where Target is taking market share from rivals: electronics, up more than 50%; clothing sales, up 10% (hurting rivals like Kohl’s, which reported a 14% drop in third-quarter sales); and beauty products.

Target’s net earnings rose in the quarter to $1.01 billion, from $714 million a year earlier. Total revenue surged 21.3% to $22.63 billion, easily beating estimates for $20.93 billion.

Cornell expects Target’s momentum to continue as the peak holiday shopping season gets going next week with Black Friday, especially in categories like toys and electronics.

“Many have started to shop earlier, and we do expect [shopping] to be spread out during the holiday season. But they are looking to celebrate,” he said. “We expect a lot of gift-giving.”