The 688-store Bi-Lo grocery chain is officially the fastest-growing big retailer in the U.S., according to the new version of the National Retail Federation's annual list. There's just one catch: Bi-Lo's phenomenal 353 percent sales-growth rate was mainly the result of its merger with the much larger Winn-Dixie chain.
The real big-growth retail stories? That would be 328-store apparel chain Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS), with sales up 63.2 percent, followed by grocer Sprouts Farmers Market, up 62.6 percent, Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU), up 67.7 percent), Apple Stores and iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL), up 34.6 percent, Under Armour (NYSE:UA), up 33.4 percent, and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), up 30.4 percent.
Apple and Amazon are no surprise. The fact that two of the five fastest growing U.S. chains continue to be sports apparel retailers is a little more of a shock (both Lululemon and Under Armour were also among the top five a year ago). But what's always interesting is who has fallen off the mountain in the past year.
Verizon Wireless's (NYSE:VZ) year-over-year sales growth, for example, dropped from 68.8 percent to 7.6 percent (no, there's not a digit missing there). Fresh & Easy, which was growing sales last year at 22.6 percent and vanished from the list this year, will close up shop if owner Tesco can't find a buyer soon. And 7-Eleven's sales growth fell from 19.1 percent to 7.5 percent.
There's no simple explanation for the rises and falls—while Fresh & Easy is clearly in trouble, no one expects 7-Eleven to go away. That's one problem with lists based on year-over-year growth—they tend to exaggerate what's going on due to sudden changes in store openings or mergers.
However, Kantar Retail, which compiled the numbers for the list, predicts drug stores, dollar stores and membership warehouse clubs will remain in growth mode. For retail in general, Kantar expects growth to be roughly the same as the inflation rate over the next five years (about 4.5 percent), with the bricks-and-mortar segment growing at 3.5 percent and online/non-store growth of 11.4 percent. That last category will double 7 percent of retail sales to 14 percent by 2020, Kantar says.
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