America’s Most Popular Stores

April 29, 2014 by Thomas C. Frohlich

America’s most visited stores are popular for a variety of reasons. According to data provided by Placed, a consumer habits data service provider that monitors behavior of more than 150,000 American consumers at 150 million locations daily, the most popular brands are primarily in the fast-food, discount retail and pharmacy segments.

Half of the most visited retailers are fast-food chains. Placed founder and CEO David Shim explained that while you don’t need household supplies every day, “three times a day or more you need to eat, so there’s a higher propensity to visit these types of businesses.” The lower price per transaction at fast-food chains compared to other retailers also helps them to attract consumers, Shim noted.

Click here to see America’s most popular stores

Consumers also regularly shop at the country’s biggest drugstore chains and big-box retailers. In addition to selling widely purchased goods, these retailers have the most locations in the country. Walgreens, 7-Eleven and CVS Caremark all had more than 7,000 U.S. locations in 2012, among the most stores nationwide. Food chains were even more numerous. Subway, McDonald’s and Starbucks were all among the top five companies by store count, each with well over 14,000 U.S. locations in 2012.

Many of the most popular stores with consumers tended to have large advertising budgets. According to Shim, “From our perspective, [advertising] dollars do matter in terms of driving traffic in the store.” In fact, seven of the 10 most popular stores were among the top-spenders on advertising nationwide in 2011 and 2012, according to Advertising Age, a magazine providing market and industry data.

Placed found that consumers’ habits differed considerably by gender and income level. “Fast food typically tends to skew more men than women,” Shim said. In contrast, retail shoppers skew female. While men and women were equally likely to go to Starbucks, shoppers at Target were 16% more likely to be women, and Taco Bell diners were 13% more likely to be men.

Americans making more than $100,000 per year were on the whole were more likely to shop at big-box retailers and drugstores than those making between $25,000 and $100,000. On the other hand, consumers making less than $25,000, were more likely to eat at three of the most popular fast food restaurants — Burger King, McDonald’s and Taco Bell — than those making more than $100,000.

To determine the nation’s most popular stores, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from location analytics company Placed. Placed calculated the percentage of Americans who visited various stores in March 2014. The group also provided demographic and socioeconomic data on customers for various retailers and restaurants. These are indexed to a base of 100, representing the average American consumer. We also reviewed 2012 U.S. sales and store count data from the National Retail Federation’s, as well as advertising expenditure figures from AdAge covering 2011 and 2012.

These are America’s most popular stores.

10. 7-Eleven
> Index score, women: 93
> Index score, men: 107
> Store count: 7,672
> One-year stock-price change: N/A
> Store category: Gas stations and convenience

While 7-Eleven is a common sight in many Americans towns, the convenience store is also quite prominent outside the United States. Remarkably, the vast majority of 7-Eleven sales — more than 85% — came from outside the U.S. Unlike other popular stores, Americans earning between $25,000 and $50,000 were less likely than the average American to visit 7-Eleven. Wealthier consumers, on the other hand — those earning more than $100,000 — were more likely to visit 7-Eleven. Despite its popularity in the states, 7-Eleven spent relatively little on advertising. The chain did not make AdAge’s top 100 leading national advertisers rank in 2012.

9. Taco Bell
> Index score, women: 94
> Index score, men: 106
> Store count: N/A
> One-year stock-price change: N/A
> Store category: Restaurant

Taco Bell has had some success in claiming a share of the breakfast market, which has been dominated by McDonald’s for years. More than many of the other most popular stores, Taco Bell draws a relatively young crowd. Those 18- to 34-year-olds were more likely to visit Taco Bell last quarter than any other age group reviewed. The chain’s success may be due in part to its late hours of operation and prices, considered low even in the fast-food industry. While CEO Greg Creed has stated his commitment to low prices, this may be difficult going forward with the introduction of Taco Bell’s slightly healthier menu items.

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8. Burger King
> Index score, women: 95
> Index score, men: 105
> Store count: 7,183
> One-year stock-price change: +44.6%
> Store category: Restaurant

Unlike Burger King’s major competitors, the store was not included on AdAge’s list of top advertisers for 2012. While the number of Burger King Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: BKW) stores actually declined in recent years — down 0.5% between 2011 and 2012 — Burger King remains among America’s most popular stores. In fact, the reduction in company-owned stores in favor of franchisee-owned stores, as well as a recent simplification of its menu, may have helped boost Burger King’s profitability. Americans earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year were the most likely to visit Burger King last March, compared with every other income group reviewed by Placed.

7. CVS Caremark
> Index score, women: 107
> Index score, men: 92
> Store count: 7,472
> One-year stock-price change: +27.5%
> Store category: Department store

CVS Caremark Corp. (NYSE: CVS) had 7,472 stores in 2012, more than any other drugstore chain except for Walgreens. CVS Caremark is particularly popular among women. Women were 7% more likely than the average American to visit a CVS Caremark, a trend that is seen across most drugstores. Unlike many popular stores, CVS Caremark’s popularity does not seem to rely as heavily on ad spending. In 2012, the company spent slightly more than $400 million advertising, barely making AdAge’s top 100 advertisers list.

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6. Target
> Index score, women: 107
> Index score, men: 92
> Store count: 1,778
> One-year stock-price change: -11.8%
> Store category: Department store

Recent public relations disasters — most notably mass data theft confirmed by the company in February — have contributed to Target’s falling sales and revenues. Despite this, Target remains one of America’s most visited stores. Consumers in the 18-to-34 age group were 11% more likely than the average American to visit a Target. Americans earning at least $100,000 annually were even more likely to visit Target than other stores, with an index score of 160. Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) was also among the nation’s top advertisers, spending $1.7 billion in 2012, more than most U.S. companies.

5. Walgreens
> Index score, women: 105
> Index score, men: 94
> Store count: 7,821
> One-year stock-price change: +35.9%
> Store category: Department store

As with many retailers, Walgreens was more popular among women than men. Women were 11% more likely to visit Walgreens than men. The company expanded faster than many others recently, with the number of Walgreens locations growing by 2.2% between 2011 and 2012. Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG) — the largest pharmacy operator in the nation — was fined $80 million by the Food and Drug Administration last year for failing to properly control distribution of dangerous drugs. According to The New York Times, this was the largest fine ever paid by a pharmacy chain at the time.

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4. Starbucks
> Index score, women: 100
> Index score, men: 100
> Store count: 11,128
> One-year stock-price change: +18.2%
> Store category: Restaurant

Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ: SBUX) has dominated U.S. coffee sales for years. Its sales have generally continued to grow since its initial public offering in the early 1990s. The coffee chain has changed its product lineup in recent years, introducing a range of foods, including a larger breakfast and lunch menu. The stores also continue to attract coffee drinkers with its free Wi-Fi. Unlike many other popular stores, Starbucks is less segmented by gender or age. As David Shim explains, “Everyone wants coffee.” However, unlike others in the food sector, shoppers making more than $100,000 were far more likely — 58% — to buy cup of coffee at Starbucks than those making less than $25,000.

3. Subway
> Index score, women: 95
> Index score, men: 105
> Store count: 25,900
> One-year stock-price change: N/A
> Store category: Restaurant

Among restaurants, Subway trails only McDonald’s in popularity. While more Americans visit the Golden Arches, by the end of 2010 Subway actually passed McDonald’s in the number of stores globally, at 33,749. Subway’s expansion continued in 2012, with the number of stores growing 3.5% that year, among the biggest increases nationwide among major chains. Subway spent nearly $545 million on advertising in 2012, up 6.1% from the year before, and more than most other U.S. companies.

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2. McDonald’s
> Index score, women: 97
> Index score, men: 103
> Store count: 14,146
> One-year stock-price change: -0.6%
> Store category: Restaurant

McDonald’s was by far the most visited fast-food restaurant in the nation in March. Although McDonald’s remains hugely popular, its U.S. same-store sales declined by 1.7% this quarter from the same quarter the year before, with reports citing slowing service times and heightened competition. Among the company’s plans to draw diners back to its stores is the recent unveiling of the newly redesigned Ronald McDonald, which attempts to make the icon more contemporary and less clown-like. Like several other popular stores, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) has among the nation’s largest advertising budgets, spending $1.4 billion on ads in 2012, up 4.2% from a year before.

1. Walmart
> Index score, women: 106
> Index score, men: 93
> Store count: 4,570
> One-year stock-price change: -0.9%
> Store category: Department store

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is far and away the nation’s largest retailer, with nearly $329 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2012. Unlike many other popular destinations, Americans earning more than $100,000 a year were far less likely to visit Walmart than the average American. Walmart continues to grow, having increased its U.S. store count 3.3% to 4,570 locations in 2012. Walmart spent $1.8 billion on advertising in 2012, effectively unchanged from the year before, but still more than all but a handful of companies.