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Discount Domination: Dollar Stores are Thriving in America

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The retail landscape is in a constant state of flux.

E-commerce is indisputably disrupting almost every imaginable aspect of retail, creating what has been coined as the “retail apocalypse”. As a result, certain segments of the market have had well publicized meltdowns – electronics and apparel, in particular – and the U.S. now has far more retail floor space available than any other nation.

That said, there is one type of store that’s thriving in this unpredictable landscape – dollar stores. Today, we examine data from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, which puts the scale of the United States’ dollar store boom into perspective.

dollar store nation

Escaping the Retail Apocalypse

The rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon has led to a relentless wave of closures for brick and mortar retailers. Department stores and consumer electronics are taking hard hits, yet a curious trend emerges through the cracks – dollar stores are multiplying like rabbits.

The persistent growth of dollar stores is the biggest retail trend in the past decade. Between 2007 and 2017, over 11,000 new dollar stores were opened; that’s roughly 93 new stores a month, or three per day. Dollar General, in particular, is reaping the rewards: the company has a market cap of over $30 billion.

dollar general stock

Compared to mammoth retailer Walmart, Dollar General is the little store that could. Despite reporting lower sales per square foot, Dollar General outperforms Walmart in 5-year gross profit margins.

StoreSales per square foot5-year gross profit marginsCost of a new store
Dollar General$18430.9%$250,000
Walmart$43225.1%$15,000,000

Sources: Bloomberg, E-Marketer

This whopping difference in launching a new location contributes to the fast and furious spread of dollar stores. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which now owns Family Dollar) boast 30,000 stores between them, eclipsing the six biggest U.S. retailers combined. Their combined annual sales also rival Apple Stores, including iTunes.

The Dollar Store Strategy

What makes dollar stores so lucrative? In a nutshell, they’re willing to go where others won’t.

Dollar General focuses on rural areas, while Dollar Tree and Family Dollar are more prominent in urban and suburban areas. But they have one thing in common – all three chains target small towns in rural America, resulting in a high concentration per capita, especially in the South.

Wal-Mart’s 40 miles away and we can meet those people’s needs.

– David Perdue, Former CEO of Dollar General

Dollar General’s ambitious expansion into smaller towns has proven successful. Residents can find many everyday products at prices similar to those at Walmart, but without the longer drive to a Supercenter. Despite the 3,500 Walmart Supercenters spread out across the country, chances are, there’s a dollar store even closer.

dollar stores versus walmart

Dollar stores fill a need in cash-strapped communities, saving time and gas money during a trip to the store, and then offering an affordable and enticing products inside the store itself.

America’s Grocery Gap

The no-frills shopping experience is also a quintessential trait of dollar stores. Dollar stores focus on a limited selection of private label goods, selling basics in small quantities instead of bulk.

However, there’s also a dark underbelly to this trend. Dollar stores often enter areas with no grocery stores at all, called food deserts. In the absence of choice, dollar stores are welcomed with open arms – but the lack of fresh produce and abundance of processed, packaged foods leave much to be desired.

If you live in Whole Foods-land – not the dollar store world – it’s an invisible reality that they’re supplying a lot of the groceries.

— Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

On the other hand, when dollar stores compete with locally-owned grocery stores in the same area, sales in the latter can be cut by over 30% in some cases – taking an enormous toll on the community.

The ILSR report suggests that dollar stores may not always be a by-product of economic distress, but a cause of it. Regardless of what perspective you have on the spread of dollar stores, it’s clear they’re here to stay.

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Markets

All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

Our most famous visualization, updated for 2020 to show all global debt, wealth, money, and assets in one massive and mind-bending chart.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

In the current economic circumstances, there are some pretty large numbers being thrown around by both governments and the financial media.

The U.S. budget deficit this year, for example, is projected to hit $3.8 trillion, which would be more than double the previous record set during the financial crisis ($1.41 trillion in FY2009). Meanwhile, the Fed has announced “open-ended” asset-buying programs to support the economy, which will add even more to its current $7 trillion balance sheet.

Given the scale of these new numbers—how can we relate them back to the more conventional numbers and figures that we may be more familiar with?

Introducing the $100 Billion Square

In the above data visualization, we even the playing field by using a common denominator to put the world’s money and markets all on the same scale and canvas.

Each black square on the chart is worth $100 billion, and is not a number to be trifled with:

What is in a $100 billion square?

In fact, the entire annual GDP of Cuba could fit in one square ($97 billion), and the Greek economy would be roughly two squares ($203 billion).

Alternatively, if you’re contrasting this unit to numbers found within Corporate America, there are useful comparisons there as well. For example, the annual revenues of Wells Fargo ($103.9 billion) would just exceed one square, while Facebook’s would squeeze in with room to spare ($70.7 billion).

Billions, Trillions, or Quadrillions?

Here’s our full list, which sums up all of the world’s money and markets, from the smallest to the biggest, along with sources used:

CategoryValue ($ Billions, USD)Source
Silver$44World Silver Survey 2019
Cryptocurrencies$244CoinMarketCap
Global Military Spending$1,782World Bank
U.S. Federal Deficit (FY 2020)$3,800U.S. CBO (Projected, as of April 2020)
Coins & Bank Notes$6,662BIS
Fed's Balance Sheet$7,037U.S. Federal Reserve
The World's Billionaires$8,000Forbes
Gold$10,891World Gold Council (2020)
The Fortune 500$22,600Fortune 500 (2019 list)
Stock Markets$89,475WFE (April 2020)
Narrow Money Supply$35,183CIA Factbook
Broad Money Supply$95,698CIA Factbook
Global Debt$252,600IIF Debt Monitor
Global Real Estate$280,600Savills Global Research (2018 est.)
Global Wealth$360,603Credit Suisse
Derivatives (Market Value)$11,600BIS (Dec 2019)
Derivatives (Notional Value)$558,500BIS (Dec 2019)
Derivatives (Notional Value - High end)$1,000,000Various sources (Unofficial)

Derivatives top the list, estimated at $1 quadrillion or more in notional value according to a variety of unofficial sources.

However, it’s worth mentioning that because of their non-tangible nature, the value of financial derivatives are measured in two very different ways. Notional value represents the position or obligation of the contract (i.e. a call to buy 100 shares at the price of $50 per share), while gross market value measures the price of the derivative security itself (i.e. $1.00 per call option, multiplied by 100 shares).

It’s a subtle difference that manifests itself in a big way numerically.

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Charting the Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

This infographic charts the rise and fall of the $308 billion global personal luxury market, and explores what the coming year holds for its growth

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The Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

Global demand for personal luxury goods has been steadily increasing for decades, resulting in an industry worth $308 billion in 2019.

However, the insatiable desire for consumers to own nice things was suddenly interrupted by the coming of COVID-19, and experts are predicting a brutal contraction of up to one-third of the current luxury good market size this year.

Will the industry bounce back? Or will it return as something noticeably different?

A Once Promising Trajectory

The global luxury goods market—which includes beauty, apparel, and accessories—has compounded at a 6% pace since the 1990s.

Recent years of growth in the personal luxury goods market can be mostly attributed to Chinese consumers. This geographic market accounted for 90% of total sales growth in 2019, followed by the Europe and the Americas.

Analysts suggest that China’s younger luxury goods consumers in particular have significant spending power, with an average spend of $6,000 (¥41,000) per person in pre-COVID times.

An Industry Now in Distress

The lethal combination of reduced foot traffic and decreased consumer spending in the first quarter of 2020 has brought the retail industry to its knees.

In fact, more than 80% of fashion and luxury players will experience financial distress as a result of extended store closures.

luxury market McKinsey supplemental

With iconic luxury retailers such as Neiman Marcus filing for bankruptcy, the pressure on the luxury industry is clear. It should be noted however, that companies who were experiencing distress before the COVID-19 outbreak will be the hardest hit.

Predicting the Collapse

In a recent report, Bain & Company estimated a 25% to 30% global luxury market contraction for the first quarter of 2020 based on several economic variables. They have also modeled three scenarios to predict the performance for the remainder of 2020.

  • Optimistic scenario: A limited market contraction of 15% to 18%, assuming increased consumer demand for the second and third quarter of the year, roughly equating to a sales decline of $46 billion to $56 billion.
  • Intermediate scenario: A moderate market contraction of between 22% and 25%, or $68 to $77 billion.
  • Worst-case scenario: A steep contraction of between 30% and 35%, equating to $92 billion to $108 billion. This assumes a longer period of sales decline.

Although there are signs of recovery in China, the industry is not expected to fully return to 2019 levels until 2022 at the earliest. By that stage, the industry could have transformed entirely.

Changing Consumer Mindsets

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one-quarter of of consumers have delayed purchasing luxury items. In fact, a portion of those who have delayed purchasing luxury goods are now considering entirely new avenues, such as seeking out cheaper alternatives.

However, most people surveyed claim that they will postpone buying luxury items until they can get a better deal on price.

luxury market supplemental

This frugal mindset could spark an interesting behavioral shift, and set the stage for a new category to emerge from the ashes—the second-hand luxury market.

Numerous sources claim that pre-owned luxury could in fact overtake the traditional luxury market, and the pandemic economy could very well be a tipping point.

The Future of Luxury

Medium-term market growth could be driven by a number of factors, from a global growing middle class and their demand for luxury products, as well as retailers’ sudden shift to e-commerce.

While analysts can only rely on predictions to determine the future of personal luxury, it is clear that the industry is at a crossroads.

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