America's Most Popular Stores

One half of Americans went to McDonald’s at least once in March, according to location analytics group Placed Insights. Nearly four in ten Americans visited Walmart, the next most popular business in March.

Placed Insights, a consumer habits data service provider, monitors the consumption behavior of more than 70,000 Americans ages 14 and older on a monthly basis. The data show that a handful of companies are visited by at more than one in 10 Americans each month. The companies are primarily in the fast food, discount retail and pharmacy sectors. Based on a review of Placed’s data for March 2013, these are the most visited stores in America.

Click here to see the ten most popular stores

The type of businesses these companies are in plays a big part in the kind of foot traffic they get each month. According to Placed Insights, less than 40% of Americans visited a bank or clothing fashion store in March. At the same time, an estimated 60% visited a department store, and more than two-thirds went to a fast food restaurant at least once.

Placed Insights founder and CEO David Shim explained that the type of goods being sold at a business is the difference between Americans going once a year, or once a week. “People go to fast food at a high frequency. They don’t necessarily go shopping for a sweater every day, but they eat food every day.”

It should come as no surprise that most of these companies have made concerted effort to expand their products, with varying degrees of success. Walmart, for example, has expanded its business to offer groceries, and even has fast food restaurants in the store. Starbucks has expanded its menu options to include breakfast sandwiches and other meals. McDonald’s new McCafe coffee brand has been very successful. These are all new services devised to make more money on existing customers, bring in a new set of customers, and to bring them in more often.

While the type of goods and services being offered by these companies is critical, the other is their dominant national presence. These companies have thousands of locations all over the country. Rare is the American town without a McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, or some combination of the three. McDonald’s had more than 14,000 locations in the U.S. in 2012, while Subway had more than 25,000 stores.

Using figures recently published by Placed Insights, 24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the most visited stores in America. To assess how profitable and popular these stores were, we also consulted companies’ financial statements. Same-store sales growth, systemwide sales, and other measures of store performance were provided by research firms RetailSails and Technomic. Stock prices are for the parent company that owns the store.

These are America’s most popular stores.

10. Target
> Percent visited: 14.2%
> Revenue: $73.3 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 27.56%
> Store category: Discount & variety stores

Target was the second most-visited discount retailer in the U.S. during March, behind only Walmart. One reason was the number of Target stores. The company has been attempting to take on Walmart by adding grocery sections to more of its stores and by offering food at competitive prices. This has helped Target maintain strong financial performance despite the weak economy and its additional spending on its launch in Canada. Most Americans surveyed by the American Customer Satisfaction Index rated Target well. It finished in a three-way tie for the second-highest rated discount store behind Nordstrom.

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9. Taco Bell
> Percent visited: 18.2%
> Revenue: $13.6 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: -3.89%
> Store category: Fast food

As recently as 2011, Taco Bell was struggling to keep competitor Chipotle from taking its customers, with flat or negative same-store sales growth in each quarter that year. This changed in early 2012, when Taco Bell released the “Doritos Locos” taco, a hard taco with a shell made of Doritos nacho chips. The taco help the company increase comparable sales in every quarter of 2012, as the company sold over 1 million such tacos per day. In March, Taco Bell operator Yum! Brands executive Greg Creed told The Daily Beast the company hired 15,000 workers just to meet demand for the taco in 2012. Last year, the company’s sales increased by $1 billion to $11.8 billion, and net income rose by roughly $300 million to $1.6 billion.

8. CVS
> Percent visited: 18.9%
> Revenue: $123.1 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 27.56%
> Store category: Drugstore

CVS dominates the pharmacy market. According to the company, it is the top provider of prescriptions in the country, filling or managing more than 1 billion prescriptions a year. With stores located in 45 states, one of the company’s 7,400 retail stores are within three miles of 75% of the people who live in the markets it serves. Last year, CVS estimated it gained millions of new customers following a dispute between Walgreens and Express Scripts, the prescription management service. Even after the dispute was resolved, CVS was able to retain customers who used to fill prescriptions at Walgreens. In the first quarter of 2013, the company’s revenue grew 5%, as same-store sales grew 4%.

7. Walgreens
> Percent visited: 22.7%
> Revenue: $71.6 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 42.17%
> Store category: Drugstore

Walgreens was by far the most visited drugstore in the country in March for those 14 and older. Some 22.7% of consumers shopped there, compared to the 18.9% for main competitor CVS. According to RetailSails, the company has the most stores, at 7,890, and the largest average store, at 14,400 square feet, among all drugstore chains. The company’s first place spot may not last, however. The company lost significant business to CVS over a now-resolved dispute with Express Scripts. The company spent nearly nine months without using Express Scripts, the largest prescription management service in the country, losing an estimated 60 million prescriptions to rivals. CVS estimates that it will retain roughly half of the Walgreen’s customers it gained as a result of the dispute.

6. Wendy’s
> Percent visited: 22.8%
> Revenue: $2.5 billion
> 1-Yr. stock price change: 11.84%
> Store category: Fast food

In 2011, Wendy’s systemwide sales surpassed Burger King’s, making it the second largest burger chain in the U.S. But Wendy’s growth has actually been quite modest as of late, with same-store sales in North America growing just 1.6% from 2011 to 2012. Wendy’s is currently in the process of remodeling many of its restaurants to have more comfortable seating arrangements and flat-screen televisions. However, not all of the stores are getting upgraded, some will be closed. The company announced in March it was going to shutter as many as 130 underperforming stores throughout the country. Last year, the company also underwent considerable changes in its marketing strategy and menu in order to lure customers who have been tempted to eat at places such as Panera, which promotes healthier food for slightly higher prices.

5. Starbucks
> Percent visited: 23.9%
> Revenue: $13.3 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 12.46%
> Store category: Coffee

There is a reason Starbucks is number one in the coffee category: sales in the U.S. grew by nearly 346% between 2001 and 2012, and the number of stores grew by 195%. The company has struggled in the U.S. in the past several years, but SBUX stock has continued to rise as global sales have helped to pick up the slack. Worldwide, Starbucks revenue grew by 7% in 2012 compared to 2011. This included a 15% growth in the Asia/Pacific region. In its early years, the company did not place great emphasis on its food items, focusing mostly on its coffee business. However, that has changed in recent years, especially following the purchase of Bay Area pastry chain La Boulangerie. The success of this acquisition is still in the air. Some industry analysts remain skeptical of Starbucks’ ability to compete for customers’ breakfast purchases.

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4. Burger King
> Percent visited: 24.3%
> Revenue: $2.0 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: N/A
> Store category: Fast food

Rival Wendy’s overtook Burger King in 2011 as America’s second largest burger chain, behind McDonald’s. The last decade or so has been especially tumultuous for Burger King, being taken private in two separate instances, in 2002 and in 2010. Just last June, Burger King became a public company yet again. The company has not performed well in years, with an average growth rate of -0.1% between 2001 and 2013. A restructuring that began after the second buyout in 2010, in which stores were sold to franchisees rather than being owned by the company, has cut deeply into the company’s sales. But not all news for Burger King is bad news as nearly one quarter of Americans visited Burger King in March.

3. Subway
> Percent visited: 37.8%
> Revenue: N/A
> 1-yr. stock price change: N/A
> Store category: Fast food

Between 2001 and 2012, Subway’s systemwide sales in the U.S. grew nearly 169%, while the number of stores grew nearly 93%. Subway is by far the largest fast-food chain in the U.S., with almost 26,000 restaurants. The company has been able to fuel its large growth through both international expansion and a domestic focus on healthy eating, most notably using Jared Fogle — a man who lost weight while regularly eating the company’s sandwiches — in its ad campaigns. In 2013, for the ninth year in a row, Subway received the highest score in the country in a Harris Poll EquiTrend study for the “quick service restaurants” category and was named brand of the year by that group.

2. Walmart
> Percent visited: 38.8%
> Revenue: $469.2 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 34.29%
> Store category: Discount & variety stores

Walmart is by far the number one discount retailer in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. It was recently ranked No. 1 in the Fortune 500 after it reported more than $469 billion in worldwide revenue in 2012. While international markets are critical to growth, the U.S. market represents the majority of revenue: U.S. sales comprise 62% of the company’s sales. In the last five years, Walmart has added 450 U.S. stores, a 13% increase overall. However, according to Bloomberg, the company’s U.S. workforce has dropped 1.4% in that time frame, leading to customers’ complaints about a lack of inventory and longer check-out lines. Some customers began to shop at places such as Target and Costco. In February, the American Customer Service Index ranked Walmart the lowest of all discount retailers, the sixth year in a row the chain has ranked the lowest or tied for the position.

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1. McDonald’s
> Percent visited: 49.0%
> Revenue: $27.6 billion
> 1-yr. stock price change: 6.92%
> Store category: Fast food

Almost half of all Americans visited McDonald’s in March, making it by far the most-visited store in the nation. Despite this, U.S. sales of $8.8 billion were not the company’s largest revenue segment last year, rather it was the company’s sales in Europe of $10.8 billion. It remains to be seen if McDonald’s can grow any further. According to Technomic,  systemwide sales grew at an annualized rate of nearly 5% from 2001 through 2012. However, this has slowed recently. The company’s same-store sales in the United States rose by just 0.3% from the year before in the final quarter of 2012. The company is already so large that its bottom line is highly affected by global economic conditions, leaving it currently unable to raise prices. In order to boost sales, McDonald’s CEO told CNBC the company may look to boost sales by allowing U.S. stores to serve breakfast all day.

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