Summer 2024 Retail Primer: A Look at How Target, Walmart Are Approaching the Beach Days and Grilling Nights

June 4, 2024
By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC (CMA | SIMA)

Summer is here!

Well, it doesn’t technically start for another two-plus weeks, but who are we to let the calendar get in the way of our fun? Why, we had a holiday tree on our desk up until a few weeks ago. We celebrate when we feel like it.

Look — when the temperatures finally start to creep up toward let’s-finally-get-all-of-the-warm-weather-clothes-out-of-storage territory, it’s summer in our books. No looking back, then, at the clutter in our crawlspace. We’d rather not, anyways. It’s cold and dark down there.

Anyways, back to summer. It’s summertime in your book, too, if the retailers we visited recently are any indication. To get a sense of some of the merchandise trends this season, we took a walk through our local Target and Walmart in northwest suburban Chicago.

Here’s what we saw.

Walmart

 

The main entrance of this Walmart takes you right into the produce section. A crate of watermelons, those summer stables, was prominent. Also eye-catching: a refrigerated display of berries at low prices, at left. (Bonus points for having whipped cream right there, too — the perfect adjacency.)

Walking out of produce, we encountered numerous cardboard displays, with Kraft Heinz’s “The Great Summer Flavor Debate” a standout in terms of its bright colors and its localized messaging. Many Chicagoans insist a hot dog shouldn’t include ketchup; hence the “debate.” (In our experience, three- and seven-year-olds want their ketchup on their hot dogs.)

Note also Walmart’s private-label offerings getting their own endcap.

The west wing of this Walmart features a long aisle with cardboard displays filled with featured items tailored for the season. For summer, foldable comfortable chairs — always a must for picnics, fireworks, or soccer games — were some of the prominent items here, along with red, white, and blue footballs.

Also of note: Walmart has Aisle H11 devoted to “Water Blasters.” We’ve checked, and this is the proper scientific term. The area behind the checkout aisles has also been given to the summer season, with coolers and other items present. The display of griddle grills caught our attention. We’re seeing more and more buzz around these products; certainly it’s a category to watch.

A few final words about Walmart’s “Seasonal” section, which spans five aisles at the back west part of the store. Note that 4th of July-themed items are already in stock, including plates and table clothes.

There was also quite a bit of shelf space devoted to plastic cowboy hats in red, white, and blue and related patterns. We had no idea this was a trend, but Walmart’s clearly betting on these being added to carts. In addition to the hats, there was a lot of shelf space devoted to inflatables — rafts, etc. We do suppose the hat would block the sun out on the water. Hmmm . . .

Finally, a good deal of one aisle was devoted to grilling supplies, with ample charcoal.

Maybe don’t lean over the fire with the hat on.

Target 

A recent USA Today story noted that Target is going for an “immersive” summer experience in its stores. The dominant branding throughout these themed summer sections is a yellow-striped awning, which brings to mind sunshine and the classic table umbrellas seen throughout the warm months.

The yellow really gives Target a nice pop of warmth throughout the store. We would love to see customer feedback on this. What a great accent color.

The back corner of this Target is dedicated to seasonal items, and here you can find a variety of proper summer goods, including patio furniture, insect repellant, charcoal, garden wares, and various fun knick-knacks. Of note: this area isn’t themed like the other special-to-summer areas, which are decked in yellow. However, it’s clear this is a Seasonal department, and frequent visitors will know this is where to go for those items.

There are plenty of summer-focused endcaps at this Target, and we’ve highlighted two here. There’s also this beach-themed cart, which is one of the more compelling displays we’ve seen in some time. Three observations:

  1. The water cups display not only has the beautiful awning, but a bright yellow backing to the endcap. Another nice touch from Target. More yellow, please! It looks good on you, Target.
  2. As you can see by this water-balloon display, the Minneapolis-based retail giant isn’t going to cede that market to Walmart. Competition in the water toys market is one of the many things that makes this world go ’round. Love to see it.
  3. Look at the lovely wooden cart with a beach chair atop of it — now that’s a great display idea. We’re not sure if this is new, but we’ll be looking for it throughout the summer, and we have to think it’s going to be a staple for future summers.

Five Other Summer Retail Trends 

In addition to these trends, here’s five other summer retail trends we’ve seen, observed, and researched of late:

Drink Coolers

Takeaway: Cool drinks – never out of style.

We were struck in our walk-throughs of Target and Walmart how both insulated coolers and cups were in abundant supply, with this endcap at Target (left) and aisle display at Walmart (right) two examples.

Aldi’s also in the game with a Crane Floating Drink and Ice Holder in three styles that are apparently in high demand.

Fashion

Takeaway: The 1990s and Y2K Are Back (and Not Going Away)

Three recent fashion headlines, and if you’re a certain age, these may stir nostalgia, or pangs of regret for stylistic choices made long ago, though thankfully in a time where the phone was just a phone and not much of a camera, if one at all:

  • Jelly sandals, a staple for Generation X kids now navigating the middle stages of adulthood, are making a comeback.
  • Platform sandals have made their way to the front of the closet again, too.
  • Even men’s jean shorts are back in style. (Not to date ourselves, but this brings us back to Six Flags Great America, circa 1993.)
  • Bonus in-store observation (for Walmart and Target): this is a golden age to buy vintage-looking music t-shirts. Walmart had a teal Whitney Houston shirt that we didn’t buy — and we’re still kicking ourselves. Target’s selection is also excellent.

For more modern fashion trends, NBC’s Today has some summer suggestions.

Food / Beverage

Takeaway: Some Like It (More) Hot

Spicy and sweet snacks – “swicy” – are getting quite popular with consumers. Overall, consumers just flat-out want more spice in their foods. To wit: as CNN notes, PepsiCo’s “Flamin’ Hot” branded snacks were up 31% in sales last year.

Grilling

Takeaway: Put the Produce . . . On the Grill?

Better Homes and Gardens’ “10 Grilling Trends” leads with salads, grilled vegetables, and grilled fruits and deserts. (Grilled lettuce was the first vegetable mentioned, for what it’s worth.) Now, what a marketing idea this could be for grocers and suppliers in budget- and health-conscious times. We can see the wheels spinning in the heads of the Fresh category experts and enthusiasts in the audience.

Home Improvement

Takeaway: Survey Says – People Are Investing in Their Current Homes

Yelp’s 2024 Summer Home & Outdoor Trends report has a wealth of keyword search data, and the pattern is clear: consumers are looking at how to improve their existing homes in a challenging buying market. For instance, searches for “backyard remodel” increased 142% over the last year, per Yelp data. Searches for lavender plants, to cite another example, are up 77%, per Yelp.

Check back here as the kids go back to school and the pumpkin-spiced winds of fall begin to blow for more seasonal trends to watch. Have a trend you would like to see us investigate further or highlight here? Drop the CMA a note