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7 best retail stocks to invest in

7 best retail stocks to invest in

Key Points

  • Retail stocks can be consumer staples or consumer discretionary stocks that provide products to consumers.
  • Some of the best retail stocks are often associated with well-known brands and household names.
  • Walmart is the largest employer, U.S. importer and brick-and-mortar retailer worldwide.
  • 5 stocks we like better than Walmart

Consumer spending is the economy's lifeblood. It's easy to look around and see the numerous brands, products and services circulating in your household. Companies that produce these products employ workers who are also consumers who spend money. What goes around comes around when it comes to the economy. 

Strong economies come with solid consumer spending and vice versa. Investing in retail stocks is one way of capitalizing on this dynamic. This article will review seven of the best retail stocks to invest in to help you navigate the retail sector and make more informed decisions.  

Retail stocks overview

Retail stocks produce, market or distribute the products and services consumers buy. 

It's the oldest game in the book:

  1. Produce and acquire at a lower price and sell at a higher price for a profit.
  2. Use that profit to grow the business.
  3. Rinse and repeat. 
  4. Keep your customers happy so they keep buying products from your company. 

The formula is simple enough, but numerous companies have tried and failed. There are many features to pay attention to when investing in retail stocks.

Understanding the retail landscape

Throughout history, retail has profoundly changed. This change has been spurred by technological advancements, changing consumer tastes and evolving economic landscapes. Early forms of retail relied on barter and trade in open-air markets, gradually transitioning into the era of department stores and specialty shops during the Industrial Revolution, offering diverse goods in centralized locations. 

The mid-20th century saw the rise of shopping malls, consolidating various stores, dining options and entertainment venues. However, the advent of the internet initiated a seismic shift, revolutionizing retail through e-commerce and granting consumers access to a global marketplace from their homes.


Retailers are embracing an omnichannel approach, merging physical and digital realms for a cohesive customer experience. Factors influencing the industry today include demanding consumer behavior seeking tailored experiences, technological disruptions employing AI, data analytics and mobile payments, economic conditions shaping spending habits and a growing emphasis on sustainability and ethical practices in sourcing and operations. Global trade dynamics also impact product availability and pricing.

The current retail market is vast, with projections estimating its global worth to reach $28.9 trillion by the end of 2023, with e-commerce playing an increasingly significant role. Major players like Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba and Home Depot dominate the landscape, boasting substantial online and brick-and-mortar presence. Key trends include social commerce, personalized shopping experiences, omnichannel integration and sustainability initiatives.

Criteria for evaluating retail stocks

Assessing retail stocks requires an in-depth analysis of several critical financial metrics. This analysis provides a comprehensive view of a company's financial well-being and potential for growth. These essential metrics encompass various facets:

Revenue growth

The revenue growth trajectory is a significant indicator of a company's market presence and ability to attract customers continuously. Steady and sustained revenue growth implies the capacity to capture a larger market share and the agility to adapt to evolving consumer preferences. For instance, companies demonstrating consistent year-over-year revenue growth often showcase robust strategies that resonate with consumers, facilitating ongoing sales expansion.

Profitability

Understanding a company's profitability metrics offers insights into its ability to convert sales into profits. Gross profit margin, operating profit margin and net profit margin help you understand different aspects of a company's operational efficiency. Higher profit margins suggest that a company effectively manages its costs and converts a greater proportion of its revenue into earnings. This efficiency can stem from factors like efficient supply chain management, cost-effective production processes or premium pricing strategies, contributing to sustained profitability.

Balance sheet strength

A robust balance sheet underscores a company's financial stability and ability to meet financial obligations. Metrics like the debt-to-equity ratio, current ratio and inventory turnover provide crucial insights. A lower debt-to-equity ratio indicates less reliance on debt financing, potentially minimizing financial risks. Additionally, a higher current ratio signifies better short-term liquidity, while efficient inventory turnover indicates effective management of inventory levels, preventing overstocking, obsolescence and expiration of products.

Brand strength and market positioning

Brand strength and market positioning hold immense significance in determining a company's valuation within the stock market. Different factors also influence these qualitative elements:

  • Brand strength: While often intangible, a strong brand profoundly impacts a company's financial performance. A robust brand commands premium pricing, attracts top talent and cultivates enduring customer loyalty. This brand loyalty translates into consistent sales and heightened stock valuations. Companies that invest in nurturing and sustaining a strong brand often reap the rewards through enhanced market presence and shareholder value appreciation.
  • Market positioning: A company's position in consumers' minds compared to competitors is pivotal in determining its success. A leading market position enables a company to influence industry trends, set prices and expand its customer base. Dominant market players often command higher stock valuations because they can attract and retain customers, exert pricing power and navigate market shifts more effectively than their competitors.

Success stories of top retail performers

Analyzing the success stories of exemplary retail stocks unveils critical strategies that drive ongoing stock appreciation:

  • Amazon.com Inc: Amazon.com Inc. NASDAQ: AMZN meteoric rise is attributed to its relentless focus on innovation, customer-centricity and relentless pursuit of growth opportunities. The company's diversified portfolio, encompassing e-commerce, cloud computing and logistics, has reshaped the retail landscape, propelling its stock to unprecedented heights. Amazon's continuous investment in technological innovation and customer experience has cemented its position as a market leader.
  • Walmart Inc.: Renowned for its commitment to low prices, operational efficiency and a robust brand reputation, Walmart Inc. NYSE: WMT's expansive network of brick-and-mortar stores and a growing presence in the e-commerce space solidify its status as a retail giant. Walmart's relentless pursuit of operational excellence and ability to cater to a wide consumer base has been instrumental in its consistent stock performance.
  • Costco Wholesale Corp: Costco Wholesale Corp.'s NASDAQ: COST unique membership-based warehouse model, centered around offering value, quality and unparalleled customer satisfaction, has propelled its success. Costco's strategy of providing high-quality products at competitive prices and its membership-focused business model have fostered customer loyalty and contributed to its strong track record of stock price growth.

The evaluation of retail stocks necessitates a comprehensive assessment combining quantitative financial metrics and qualitative elements like brand strength and market positioning. Armed with these multifaceted insights, investors can make informed decisions about potential long-term investment opportunities within the retail sector, positioning themselves for potential financial success.

Risks and challenges in retail investing

Investing in retail stocks offers potential for returns but is accompanied by inherent risks that necessitate thoughtful consideration. 

Comprehending these risks is crucial for informed decision-making. Here are the primary risks to consider:

  • Economic fluctuations: Retail stocks often sway with economic tides. Economic downturns typically lead to reduced consumer spending, affecting retail companies' profitability and, consequently, their stock prices.
  • Industry competition: The retail sector is fiercely competitive, brimming with players vying for market dominance. This competition may spark price wars, shrink profit margins and limit growth opportunities.
  • Technological disruption: Rapid technological advancements continuously reshape the retail landscape. Companies unable to adapt to these changes may struggle to maintain market share and competitiveness.
  • Inventory management challenges: Balancing inventory levels is a tightrope walk for retailers. Excessive inventory ties up capital, while insufficient stock leads to lost sales, impacting financial health.
  • Supply chain disruptions: Global disruptions, from sourcing to manufacturing to transportation, can disrupt retail operations, leading to product shortages, increased costs and logistical hurdles.
  • Shifting consumer trends: Ever-changing consumer preferences pose challenges for retailers. Failing to anticipate and adapt to these trends can erode market relevance and hinder sales.

External influences shaping retail dynamics

External factors exert considerable influence over retail stocks and their performance. You need to consider these factors if you plan to invest in retail stocks: 

  • Economic conditions: Overall economic health influences consumer spending habits, directly impacting retail sales figures.
  • Technological advances: Evolving technologies shape consumer behavior and retail models, presenting opportunities and challenges for companies.
  • Social and environmental shifts: The growing importance of sustainability influences consumer choices, pressuring retailers to adopt responsible practices.
  • Government regulations: Changes in regulations impact costs, operations and, ultimately, profitability for retail companies.
  • Global events: Geopolitical tensions, natural disasters and pandemics can disrupt supply chains and consumer confidence, causing market volatility.

Retail companies encounter various operational challenges that may affect their financial performance and stock prices:

  • Talent acquisition and retention: Attracting and retaining skilled personnel is pivotal for maintaining operational efficiency and service excellence.
  • Meeting customer expectations: Striking a balance between meeting consumer expectations for convenience, pricing and quality while sustaining profitability is a perpetual challenge.
  • Omnichannel integration: Seamlessly integrating physical and online retail spaces is crucial for competitive advantage in the modern market.
  • Inventory optimization: Efficiently managing inventory to mitigate costs and prevent stock shortages remains a constant endeavor.
  • Cost control: Managing operating expenses, encompassing labor, rent and logistics, is fundamental for sustaining profitability.
  • Adapting to consumer trends: Staying abreast of evolving consumer preferences is critical for staying relevant and competitive.

Impact of challenges on stock performance

These risks and challenges can significantly influence the performance of retail stocks. Companies adept at navigating these hurdles and adapting to market dynamics are more likely to deliver consistent growth and shareholder returns.

If you are considering investing in a retail stock, you should thoroughly evaluate the company's strategies, management and competitive landscape before making investment decisions. Understanding a company's ability to navigate these challenges is pivotal for making informed investment choices in the retail sector.

Investing in retail stocks can be rewarding, offering exposure to a dynamic and ever-evolving industry. However, it's crucial to approach retail stock investing strategically and with a comprehensive understanding of the risks and opportunities involved.

Diversification strategies

Diversification is a cornerstone of successful investing and holds particular significance in the retail sector. Given the inherent volatility and cyclical nature of the retail industry, diversifying your portfolio across a variety of retail subsectors and companies can help mitigate risk and enhance overall portfolio stability.

Here are some strategies for diversifying your retail stock portfolio:

  1. Invest in various retail subsectors: Consider allocating your investments across different retail subsectors, such as apparel, consumer electronics, groceries and home goods. This diversification helps reduce exposure to the specific risks associated with any particular subsector.
  2. Choose companies of different sizes: Diversify by investing in a mix of large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap retail companies. Large-cap companies offer stability and lower risk, while mid-cap and small-cap companies have the potential for higher growth but also carry higher risk.
  3. Select companies with different business models: Consider investing in companies with different business models, such as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, e-commerce giants and omnichannel retailers. This diversification helps you capture different growth opportunities and hedge against the potential decline of any particular business model.

Long-term vs. short-term strategies

Your investment strategy for retail stocks will depend on your individual goals and risk tolerance.

Long-term investment approach

A long-term investment approach focuses on holding retail stocks for an extended period, typically several years or more. This strategy suits investors seeking consistent growth and capital appreciation over the long term.

Advantages of a long-term approach:

  • Reduced focus on short-term market fluctuations
  • Potential for higher returns as companies grow and mature
  • Ability to ride out market downturns and benefit from long-term economic cycles

Short-term investment approach

A short-term investment approach aims to profit from short-term price movements in retail stocks. This strategy involves active trading and capitalizing on market volatility.

Advantages of a short-term approach:

  • Potential for quick profits by capitalizing on market swings
  • Ability to take advantage of short-term catalysts and news events
  • Flexibility to adjust investments based on changing market conditions

Aligning investment strategies with individual goals

The choice between a long-term and short-term investment strategy depends on your individual goals and risk tolerance:

  • Long-term goals (retirement, wealth accumulation): A long-term approach suits investors seeking consistent growth and long-term capital appreciation.
  • Short-term goals (generating income, opportunistic trading): A short-term approach may be suitable for investors seeking quick profits or capitalizing on market volatility.
  • Risk tolerance: Understanding your risk tolerance is important. A short-term approach may be appealing if you are comfortable with higher risk. If you prefer lower risk, a long-term strategy aligns more with your risk profile.

Remember, your investment strategy should align with your overall financial plan, risk tolerance and time horizon. Carefully evaluate your goals and risk appetite before deciding on a long-term or short-term approach to retail stock investing.

Features to look for in retail stocks

Buying a retail stock involves researching to ensure you get in on a suitable investment that fits your criteria and investment style. The best online retail stocks for one investor may not suit another investor. There are certain features to look for when you search for the best retail stock. The best-performing retail stocks excel in these features, usually better than the competition.

Sales growth

Retail stocks that have growing sales are significant. Growing sales and revenues are essential drivers for retail stocks. Many retailers report same-store sales monthly so investors can quickly track the pace of growth or contraction.

Margins

While growing sales are a good indicator, the margins are what tell the true story. Retail stocks with growing margins indicate that the company is making more profits on its goods. Be careful when margins are falling while sales are rising, called margin compression and it reflects a high volume of promotions and discounts to move products even for a loss. 

Inventory

Inventory is essential in times of high demand but can be a detriment when consumer demand falls. When consumers tighten their wallets, retailers tend to see a glut of inventory that they must discount heavily to sell, causing margin compression. High inventory levels are a sign of weak consumer demand.

Financial metrics

You can use widely used financial metrics ratios like price-to-earnings (P/E), price-to-sale (P/S) and cash-per-share (CPS) to measure a retail stock's valuation. These financial metrics enable investors to contrast and compare large-cap retail stocks to see which may have superior fundamentals. 

Real estate

The underlying real estate is an asset that can impact valuations. Many investors consider real estate to be a bonus when buying retail stocks. Real estate has a tangible value. The retail stock could be considered undervalued if it is more significant than the market capitalization. Many retail companies also own the land where stores are located.

Dividends

Retail stocks with a consistent dividend payment history are attractive for investors seeking income and growth from their stocks. Remember that the company must show a profit to maintain the dividend payments. Many of the top retail stocks are blue-chip companies. Be careful to select retail stocks that pay dividends but suffer losses as it may signal an impending dividend cut or termination.

7 best retail stocks 

Here's a list of the seven best-performing retail stocks. This list is in no particular order and not by ranking. The list helps you decide the best retail stock to buy. These retail companies vary as to being consumer staples or consumer discretionary stocks. 

Amazon.com Inc.

Amazon.com Inc. NASDAQ: AMZN sales surged through half a trillion dollars in 2022 and are growing. Amazon.com is the world's largest online retailer. This is the go-to website to purchase everything online, from books to smart TVs to toothpaste and device insurance. Amazon is a sum-of-all-parts powerhouse in retailing. It has its own private label brand of products in addition to smart speakers like the Alex and Echo and Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers. 

Its Prime membership entitles subscribers to free and low-priced shipping and access to several services, including its streaming video service, Amazon Prime and streaming music service Amazon Music. Amazon is considered a blue-chip stock in addition to also being a technology and a retail stock.

The company also owns Whole Foods Market grocery stores and is growing its Amazon Fresh business. It's expanded into pharmacy and prescription benefits management, enabling users to have their prescriptions delivered. In addition to retail products, it's a leader in cloud computing with its Amazon Web Services (AWS), which continues its double-digit growth driven by the secular tailwind of cloud migration and adoption. Amazon stock has a five-year performance of 32.5% with no dividends. Check Amazon.com analyst ratings and price targets on MarketBeat. 

Walmart Inc.

Walmart Inc. NYSE: WMT is the world's largest brick-and-mortar retailer, with sales of $611 billion in 2022. It's the largest employer in the world, with over 2.3 million workers globally. The company has over 10,500 stores globally, serving over 230 million customers weekly across 20 countries. The average Walmart store is roughly 120,000 square feet, selling consumer products, including groceries and electronics. 

Groceries comprise over half of its annual sales, followed by general merchandise and health and wellness products. Its most popular product is bananas, selling more than 1.5 billion pounds yearly. Walmart owns much of the land its stores operate on but will often sell the real estate to investment trusts (REITs) and lease the land. Its real estate subsidiary is Walmart Realty.

Walmart also owns and operates over 600 membership-only Sam's Club retail warehouse stores, with plans to open more than 30 new warehouses in the next few years. The new warehouse stores are nearly 160,000 square feet. The company is the largest importer in the U.S. Walmart is a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Index. Walmart stock has a five-year performance of 74.6% with a 1.57% annual dividend yield. 

Look for Walmart earnings results, estimates and conference call transcripts on MarketBeat. 

Target Corp.

Target Corp. NYSE: TGT offers general merchandise and consumer products in the U.S. With over $100 billion in annual sales, the company is the eighth-largest retailer in the country. Target also sells grocery items with pharmacy services. Target owns over 80% of the real estate its more than 1,800 stores are located on. The company plans to invest up to $5 billion in 2023 to expand its locations by adding 20 new large-scale stores and remodeling up to 175 of its existing stores. Target is considered a consumer staples stock selling essential household items and products.

The new stores are designed to be a massive 150,000 square feet featuring store-in-store layouts that include Ulta Beauty and Apple brand products. It will also expand its distribution center locations from nine to over 15 by 2027. This will expedite its next-day delivery for up to 40% of its digital orders. It removes the pressure from its brick-and-mortar retail stores, enabling workers to focus solely on its guests. Target stock has a five-year performance of 117% with a 2.79% annual dividend rate. 

You can find target financials, including income statements and balance sheets on MarketBeat.

Nike Inc.

Nike Inc. NYSE: NKE is one of the world's most valuable and iconic brands for sports sneakers, apparel, equipment and accessories. The company's global sales surpassed $45 billion in 2022. 

Its famous swoosh logo is recognized worldwide. Nike sells its products through multiple channels, including over 1,200 physical stores, retail department and outlet stores, online and direct-to-consumer (DTC). Nike is considered one of the best consumer discretionary stocks to own. The company regularly makes headlines for mega product endorsement deals. 

It's been consistently at the forefront of shifting consumer fashion trends. Nike shoes have hit collectible status. Sneakerheads are hardcore collectors willing to pay thousands for vintage and rare models, helping to create a growing secondary market. This enables Nike to sell multiple shoes to collectors who may buy a specific pair to wear and an additional pair as an investment. Nike stock has a five-year performance of 82% with a 1.07% annual dividend rate.

Look for Nike analyst ratings and price targets on MarketBeat. 

Costco Wholesale Corp.

Costco Wholesale Corp. NASDAQ: COST is one of the world's largest warehouse membership clubs and the third largest retailer in the U.S. It operates more than 580 warehouse stores in the U.S. and over 840 warehouses worldwide, serving more than 120 million members. Customers pay an annual membership fee to become a member to gain access to the warehouses. Customers usually shop in bulk to save the most amount of money. 

The company generated over $220 billion in 2022, with its No. 1 selling item being toilet paper. Unlike big box stores, Costco keeps a smaller product selection to keep the quality and prices low. Its hallmark is offering bulk products at lower prices. It sells everything from office products to smart TVs, household products, fuel and groceries. It's one of the world's largest wine sellers. 

Its Kirkland private label brand has been praised for its quality and low prices. Its famous food court is also well-known for its low-priced but high-quality meals. Costco stock has a five-year performance of 159.5% with a 0.83% annual dividend yield. Check out Costco analyst ratings and price targets on MarketBeat. 

Ralph Lauren Co. 

Ralph Lauren Co. NYSE: RL, a consumer discretionary company, is a luxury fashion design company that has evolved into a premium lifestyle brand offering products under the Polo, Chaps and Ralph Lauren banners. The company sells apparel, footwear, accessories, fragrances and home furnishings. It's an iconic American brand known for its stylish and high-quality products. It sells at 504 retail locations and 684 store-within-a-store locations, department stores and other retail outlets. 

The company also has several restaurants, including the Polo Bar in New York, RL Restaurant in Chicago and the Bar at Ralph Lauren in Milan, Italy. 

The company generated over $8 billion in revenues in 2022. Ralph Lauren stock has a five-year performance of 3.57% with a 2.67% dividend yield. Check out Ralph Lauren analyst ratings and price targets on MarketBeat. 

The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company NYSE: DIS is a significant media and entertainment company well known for its trademark characters and family-friendly entertainment. The company generated over $87 billion in revenues in 2022. Disney owns the Marvel Comics IP and Marvel Studios movie and TV production studio. The company also owns Pixar, the producer of Toy Story. It owns the Star Wars franchise of movies, licenses and products. Disney owns some of the top-grossing movies of all time, like Avengers: Endgame and Avatar. 

It has a streaming network with more than 200 million subscribers on the Disney Plus service. It owns ESPN and a stake in Hulu. The company's theme park business has rebounded strongly from the pandemic and is the most profitable segment. 

Disney plans to invest up to $17 billion in upgrading and expanding its theme parks in the next decade. Disney stock has a five-year performance of down (3.3%) with no dividends. Look for Disney analyst ratings and price targets on MarketBeat. 

Unwrapping potential: Decoding retail stocks

Investing in retail stocks opens the door to a vibrant and ever-evolving industry shaped by consumer behavior, technological innovation and economic shifts. To navigate this landscape successfully, you must grasp its complexities and nuances. 

While the sector carries inherent risks, it equally presents opportunities for astute investors. Success in this realm demands a blend of financial acumen, market awareness and a keen eye on emerging trends. Ultimately, making informed decisions within the retail sector requires a holistic understanding of its dynamics and a forward-thinking approach to harness its potential.

FAQs

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about investing in retail stocks. 

What are the best retail stocks to invest in?

That depends on your investment goals and risk tolerance. Investing in an industry leader provides more stability, especially when it has a long history of consistent dividend payments. Consumer discretionary stocks have more stability than consumer discretionary stocks since they carry essential items.

Are retail stocks a good investment?

They can be a good investment depending on the price you got into the stock and how long you plan to hold it. Consider not chasing stocks when prices hit a 52-week high, nor dive in headfirst on a 52-week low.

How do you invest in retail stocks?

Learn about the retail sector first, then review some of the companies above to see if they suit your investment criteria. Have a brokerage account funded and place your trade to invest. If you can't choose one stock, you can always consider a consumer staples index fund that exposes you to a basket of retail stocks.

Should you invest $1,000 in Walmart right now?

Before you consider Walmart, you'll want to hear this.

MarketBeat keeps track of Wall Street's top-rated and best performing research analysts and the stocks they recommend to their clients on a daily basis. MarketBeat has identified the five stocks that top analysts are quietly whispering to their clients to buy now before the broader market catches on... and Walmart wasn't on the list.

While Walmart currently has a "Moderate Buy" rating among analysts, top-rated analysts believe these five stocks are better buys.

View The Five Stocks Here

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Jeffrey Neal Johnson
About The Author

Jeffrey Neal Johnson

Contributing Author

Retail and Technology Stocks

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Companies Mentioned in This Article

CompanyMarketRank™Current PricePrice ChangeDividend YieldP/E RatioConsensus RatingConsensus Price Target
Walmart (WMT)
4.6666 of 5 stars
4.67 / 5 stars
$69.24-0.8%1.20%29.63Moderate Buy$70.83
Amazon.com (AMZN)
4.9198 of 5 stars
4.92 / 5 stars
$194.49-0.3%N/A54.48Buy$217.38
Apple (AAPL)
4.867 of 5 stars
4.87 / 5 stars
$230.54+1.3%0.43%35.85Moderate Buy$218.43
Costco Wholesale (COST)
4.0653 of 5 stars
4.07 / 5 stars
$842.90-0.4%0.55%52.22Moderate Buy$799.33
Lear (LEA)
4.977 of 5 stars
4.98 / 5 stars
$118.78+1.0%2.59%12.95Moderate Buy$158.88
NIKE (NKE)
4.9625 of 5 stars
4.96 / 5 stars
$73.42+0.0%2.02%19.68Hold$96.44
Nordstrom (JWN)
3.1539 of 5 stars
3.15 / 5 stars
$23.48+0.4%3.24%12.83Reduce$17.75
Walt Disney (DIS)
4.9898 of 5 stars
4.99 / 5 stars
$97.13+0.5%0.93%105.58Moderate Buy$126.44
Ulta Beauty (ULTA)
4.3843 of 5 stars
4.38 / 5 stars
$412.94+3.0%N/A16.11Moderate Buy$503.70
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