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Edited Transcript of COST earnings conference call or presentation 28-May-20 9:00pm GMT

Q3 2020 Costco Wholesale Corp Earnings Call

ISSAQUAH Jun 5, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Costco Wholesale Corp earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 28, 2020 at 9:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Richard A. Galanti

Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Christopher Michael Horvers

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Erica A Eiler

Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - Equity Research Associate

* Gregory Scott Melich

Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD

* John Christopher Parke

Gordon Haskett Research Advisors - Research Associate of Retail

* John Edward Heinbockel

Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - Analyst

* Karen Fiona Short

Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - Research Analyst

* Kelly Ann Bania

BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - Director & Equity Analyst

* Michael Lasser

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst of Consumer Hardlines

* Paul Lawrence Lejuez

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

* Simeon Ari Gutman

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director

* Spencer Christian Hanus

Wolfe Research, LLC - Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Q3 earnings call. (Operator Instructions) And please note that this conference is being recorded. (Operator Instructions)

And I would now like to hand the call over to Mr. Richard Galanti, CFO. Please go ahead, sir.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [2]

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Thank you, Joseph, and good afternoon to everyone. I'll start by stating that these discussions will include forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements involve risks and uncertainties that may cause actual events, results and/or performance to differ materially from those indicated by such statements. The risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, those outlined in today's call as well as other risks identified from time to time in the company's public statements and reports filed with the SEC. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the company does not undertake to update these statements, except as required by law.

In today's press release, we reported operating results for the third quarter of fiscal 2020, the 12 weeks ended May 10. Reported net income for the quarter came in at $838 million or $1.89 per diluted share. This compared to $906 million or $2.05 per diluted share last year in the third quarter. Now this year's third quarter was negatively impacted by direct expenses of $283 million pretax or $0.47 per diluted share from incremental wage safety and sanitation costs related to COVID-19. And last year's third quarter number of $2.05 included the benefit from a nonrecurring tax item of $73 million or $0.16 per diluted share.

Net sales for the quarter increased 7.3% to $36.45 billion, up from $33.96 billion last year in the third quarter. On a same-store or comparable sales basis for the third quarter, for the 12 weeks on a reported basis, the U.S. was a 5.9%. Excluding gas deflation and FX impact, the 5.9% would have been for the 12 weeks 8.0%. Canada on a reported basis was minus 2.5%. Ex gas deflation and FX plus 3.0%. Other International came in on a reported basis at 6.2%. And again, ex gas deflation and FX plus 12.2%. All told, the total company came in with a reported 4.8%. And again, ex gas deflation and FX, the 4.8% would have been 7.8%.

I might also note that e-commerce on a reported basis was 64.5% comp and ex gas deflation or ex FX, 66.1%.

Now foreign currencies relative to the U.S. dollar negatively impacted sales by approximately 110 basis points, and gasoline price deflation negatively impacted sales by approximately 190 basis points, for the total company, therefore, the 300 basis points. Additionally, gasoline volumes or gallons were down about 20% year-over-year in the quarter as a result of less driving due to the pandemic. These adjusted figures -- the impact of gasoline gallons is not in the adjusted figures that I just described above.

In terms of traffic, our shopping frequency decreased in the quarter worldwide by 4.1% and in the U.S. by 2.0%. Our average transaction or ticket was up 9.3% during the third quarter, and the 9.3% does include the negative impacts from gas deflation and FX.

Now our third quarter comp sales figures did reflect also that a few of our businesses, notably optical, hearing aids and photo, were closed for much Q3. And a good portion of our food court item offerings were eliminated also for much of Q3. As well, we eliminated the food court seating during this time. Reopenings of these began -- these -- the ones that were closed began on April 30, 10 days prior to the third quarter end, with about 20% of the locations back operating by Q3 end.

In the past 2 to 3 weeks and nearly all will be back in operation by mid-June. In terms of the food courts, which have been opened, but again, a much more limited menu, we've added some, but not all the items back as of now. In all, an estimated hit to the reported sales numbers that we gave you earlier in Q3 by 1 to 2 percentage points by those items being closed or restricted.

Next, on the income statement. Membership fee income reported came in at $815 million or 2.24%, up 5% or $39 million from $776 million or 2.9% last year in Q3. Ex FX weakness, the $39 million increase, and 5% increase would have been up $47 million or 6%. During the quarter, we had 2 new openings and a total of 4 year-to-date.

In terms of renewal rates. At Q3 end, our U.S. and Canada renewal rate came in at 91.0%, a tick up from where we were at Q2 end. And the worldwide rate came in at 88.4%, the same as it was a fiscal quarter ago. Keep in mind that any impact on renewal rates from COVID, positive or negative, are reflected over the next several months.

In terms of the number of members at Q3 end, member households and cardholders. In terms of households, we ended the third quarter with 55.8 million households, up from 55.3 million 12 weeks earlier. And total cardholders came in at 101.8 million, up from 100.9 million 12 weeks earlier. At Q3 end, paid executive memberships came in at 21.8 million, an increase of 135,000 over the last 12 weeks.

Going down to the gross margin line. Our reported gross margin was higher year-over-year by 54 basis points on a reported basis, coming in at 11.53%, up from 10.99%. Now the 54 ex gas deflation would have been plus 33 basis points. As I usually do, I'll ask you to write down a few numbers in 2 columns, and then we'll go through that explanation.

In terms of reported in Q3 '20, year-over-year, the core merchandise was up 51 basis points on a reported basis, and without gas deflation, up 33. Ancillary businesses was, on a reported basis, plus 26 basis points; ex gas deflation, plus 21. The 2% reward, minus 6 and minus 4 basis points. Other, minus 17 and minus 17, And you add up those 2 columns, total reported again up 54 basis points on a reported basis and up 33 basis points -- gross margins was up 33 basis points ex gas deflation. Now the core merchandise component of gross margin, again, higher by 51 or 33 ex deflation. Keep in mind that in the quarter, we had a decent sales shift from ancillary and other businesses to core businesses, which resulted in a higher contribution of our total gross margin dollars coming from the core.

Looking at the core merchandise categories in relation to only their own sales or what we call core-on-core, margins year-over-year were lower by 17 basis points, 5 basis points, by the way, of which was the losses related to our new poultry complex. This is something I've pointed out in the last 2 quarters, and we'll probably do so next quarter as well.

In total, pretty similar, in fact, to our year-over-year impact in Q2. So while higher penetration of our total sales came from the core this year, it was at a slightly lower gross margin percentage year-over-year. This is mostly attributed to sales mix of both between and within merchandise categories.

Our fresh foods gross margin percentage was up again despite any first year headwinds from the ramp-up costs associated with the poultry complex. The strength in fresh as a result of high sales driving down our spoilage as well as labor cost as a percent of sales being able to leverage those at a greater-than-normal rate.

Softlines, food and sundries and hardlines all had lower margin percentage year-over-year in the quarter. One example, nonfoods, which is both hardlines and softlines, nonfoods was impacted by a shift in sales towards lower-margin departments, particularly things like majors and big-ticket electronics.

Ancillary and other business gross margin in the 2 columns, higher by 26 basis points, and again, 21 higher basis points ex gas deflation. This result was primarily due to strength in gas and e-com gross margin dollars year-over-year, partially offset by a lower penetration of ancillary sales due to lower gas prices and volumes and the closures of some of those ancillary businesses that I talked about earlier. Several of those businesses have higher gross margins.

2% reward was higher or was a hit to gross margin by 6 basis points on a reported basis and 4 ex deflation, implying that a slightly higher percentage of our sales were eligible for the executive member reward.

The other line item, 17 basis points to the negative. 12 of the 17 basis points is attributable to the COVID costs. And the 12 basis points, that's about $44 million of the $283 million number that was mentioned in the press release. These are the costs for incremental wages, safety and sanitation costs allocated to our cost departments and merchandise fulfillment operations. So I just say it hits the margin. The other 5 basis points or $19.7 million came from accruing reserve for certain third-party gift cards and ticket programs. This latter, $19.7 million, was not included in the $283 million total amount that we called out as a direct incremental expenses from COVID.

Moving to SG&A. Our reported SG&A percentage year-over-year was higher by 59 basis points, coming in at 10.51% of sales, up from 9.92%. Ex gas deflation, the minus 59 would have been minus 40 or higher by 40.

If you begin, please jot down the following SG&A components, and then we'll go through that. Core operations reported was plus 9 or lower by 9, a benefit of 9. Ex gas deflation, plus 24 or a benefit of 24 basis points. Central, 0 and plus 2. Stock compensation, plus 3 and plus 3. Other, minus 71 and minus 69. And you add up those 2 columns, you get to the reported SG&A increase of 59 basis points and ex gas deflation rather, minus 40 -- higher by 40 basis points.

Now, again, the core operations component, lower by 9 and ex gas deflation lower by 24. SG&A in the core operations, excluding -- that's excluding the COVID-related expenses that I'll talk about in a minute, they were, needless to say, leveraged with strong core merchandise sales. Central was essentially flat and a slight improvement relative to -- including ex gas deflation. Stock comp, no surprises there, a slight benefit to SG&A by 3 basis points. And again, the other component, the 71 or 69 ex gas deflation -- of the 71, 66 basis points of the 71 is attributable to the incremental costs of COVID-19 or $239 million of that $283 million total amount that was in the press release. Again, these are the costs for incremental wages and safety and sanitation-related direct expenses. The balance of the 71 basis point figure was 5 basis points or $18.5 million. This came from the costs associated with the acquisition and integration-related expenses of our recent acquisition of Innovel, that last-mile delivery and installation operation for big and bulky that we acquired a few months ago.

Next on the income statement is preopening expense. Preopening expense was lower by $6 million, coming in at $8 million in the quarter versus $14 million a year ago. Again, we had 2 openings this year. Last year in the quarter, we had 3, although chunks of these -- each of these numbers relate to pending openings in Q4 as well.

All told, reported operating income in the third quarter of 2020 increased by 5.1%, coming in at $1.179 billion this year compared to $1.122 billion a year ago. Now this 5% increase is, notwithstanding the incremental cost that we talked about -- that I just talked about, the $283 million as well as the $19.7 million and the $18.5 million that I just mentioned as well, those were all taken in the third quarter.

Below the operating income line, interest expense was higher year-over-year by $2 million, coming in at $37 million this year in the quarter versus $35 million a year ago. Recall that we completed a $4 billion debt offering on April 20 during the third quarter. Following the completion of the debt offering, we called the outstanding debt due May of 2021, that was a $1 billion tranche, and an additional $5 million tranche that was due in February of '22. Both of these tranches we've paid off this morning after a 30-day call notice. There will be a pretax expense of $36 million related to the earlier time in or make-whole of this debt, which will hit our Q4 results on the interest income and other line in our P&L.

Next, on the income statement. Interest income and other for the quarter, it was lower by $15 million year-over-year, mostly attributable to lower interest income and mostly attributed to lower interest rates within that. Overall, reported pretax income in Q3 fiscal '20 was up 3.6%, coming in at $1.163 billion versus $1.123 billion last year. And again, the $1.163 billion is after taking the impacts of those charges that I've previously mentioned.

In terms of income taxes. Our tax rate in Q3 was -- this year was 26.7%. Last year, it was 18.5% tax rate. Again, last year, it included a benefit of a nonrecurring tax item of $73 million.

A few other items of note. In terms of warehouse expansion, we -- as I mentioned, we opened 2 units in the third quarter. That puts us at 5 -- actually 5 units total through the first 3 quarters. We expect in Q4 to open 10, including 2 relos, so net of 8. So it looks like our net total this year will be somewhere around 13. There's been a few that have been impacted by COVID-19 in terms of construction delays and have been pushed into the first part of fiscal '21, which starts in early September. As of Q3 end, total warehouse square footage stood at 115 million square feet.

In terms of capital expenditures, the third quarter total -- third quarter fiscal 2020 total spend was approximately $626 million, and our estimated CapEx for all of fiscal '20 is currently in the $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion range, a slight decline from what we had guesstimated and estimated a quarter ago. And again, I think that has to do with some of the delays in construction since this COVID issue.

In terms of e-commerce. As I mentioned earlier, overall, our e-commerce sales on a reported basis increased 64.5% and 66.1% ex FX. I might mention -- I should note that within that 61 and like many retailers out there, we saw an increasing level of strength in e-commerce sales over the last few months. If I look at the 12-week -- the 3-, 4-week periods that comprise our 12-week third quarter, roughly that 66.1% -- or that 64.5% reported number in the first 4 weeks was in the 25% range and the next 4 weeks in the 50% increase range and the most recent -- in the last 4 weeks in the 90% range. But totaling that 64.5% on a reported basis.

A few of the stronger departments, health and beauty aids, office, majors, housewares and small electrics. Total online grocery grew at an incredible rate within the third -- during the third quarter, as I'm sure it did in many places. The comp numbers just mentioned again follow -- that's the 64% number. They follow our historical convention that -- where we exclude our third-party or same-day grocery program since that -- those -- that comes into the warehouse to be picked up by the third party and delivered to our member. If we were to include that third party in our e-commerce number, that mid-60% comp number would be slightly over 100%. So we've seen big strength in driving the business that way.

Overall, our e-com sites have worked pretty smoothly during the quarter despite dramatic volume increases. And as well, we were able to improve on delivery times throughout the quarter as we adjusted to the ramped up order volumes.

Now turning to coronavirus and all the issues and impacts surrounding it. From a sales perspective, as discussed last quarter and indicated by our monthly sales results that we do, we started Q3 strong. I think it started actually in the fourth week of February and into the first 2.5 weeks of March with very strong sales as people were stocking up prior to the information -- the concern about availability of certain key products as well as the implementation of various stay-at-home orders.

The middle of the quarter was weaker as many of the geographies in which we operate had issued mandates limiting movement. As well, we have implemented our own restrictions during these times. Recently, our sales have started to recover somewhat as states have begun to relax restrictions.

Within the merchandise categories, foods, fresh and other essentials have been very strong despite out of stocks on some items throughout the quarter, such as toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, et cetera, meats and proteins toward the end of the quarter, hand sanitizers and the like. Office and majors were also strong during the quarter driven by work-from-home initiatives, while most other discretionary categories were a little weaker during the quarter, such as jewelry, luggage, third-party gift cards, they were generally weak. Other weak categories, which include things like sporting goods, lawn and garden, patio and apparel, while they were weak, they've rebounded somewhat towards the end of the quarter.

From a supply chain perspective, I'm going to give you a 40,000-foot view of that. On the nonfood side, as it relates to imports from China, most of the factories are now up and running. Other major country suppliers, India for textiles and domestics, Mexico, primarily for things like TV assembly, a few weeks behind China in terms of getting back to normal, but each week is showing improvement.

On the foods and sundries side, paper goods are still on allocation and idle limits on certain items in certain regions. Sporadic limited limits on canned food items like tuna and chicken. The toughest areas again are still hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and Lysol sprays and the like. Items like milk and butter are generally okay. And we've also -- we have eliminated like frozen -- certain roast frozen proteins like chicken and beef items.

In terms of fresh. On the protein side, the merchandise is there but challenging from a production and processing side. Currently, for us, pork is the least affected, but somewhat affected. But what we've done for the last couple of 3 weeks, I believe, on fresh beef, chicken and pork items or those protein items, we limit 3 fresh items in total. We also have limits on -- of 1 per SKU on certain frozen items like 10 pounds of hamburger patties or chicken breast or the like.

In terms of seafood and produce, that's all good. And again, talking to our buyers in these categories, they're generally -- again, probably with the exception of the hand sanitizer because of just -- it's not just people were hoarding it, they're -- a great increase in use and demand of those items continued. But we expect continued improvement generally each week.

And lastly, Costco Travel. It was maybe, say, significantly impacted during the quarter due to reduced demand as well as cancellations of previous book trips. Members are now starting to actually book travel again, although generally further out than we have historically seen. And of course, we book those results when the trips or activities occur.

Our warehouses have overall remained open, although we did operate at reduced hours at most of our U.S. locations for several weeks during the quarter. Regular hours resumed May 4 with an additional hour on weekday mornings for seniors and persons with disabilities. Warehouses are still following social distancing and sanitizing guidelines. Additionally, as discussed, some of our warehouse businesses like hearing aid, optical and photo and, to a partial extent, the food courts were closed or mitigated during the majority of the quarter.

Also effective May 4, we now require all members, employees in the warehouses to wear masks. During the quarter, including that -- again, that big $283 million number, we spent about $32 million on masks, gloves and incremental cleaning and cleaning supplies and things like plexiglass partitions, and you name it, all related to COVID, but that's in that $283 million number.

Some of the initiatives related to the $283 million and costs will extend into Q4. We would expect the incremental expenses related to these types of expenses related to COVID to exceed $100 million in Q4 but be quite a bit lower than the $283 million that we had in Q3. We'll have to just wait and see, though.

Finally, in terms of upcoming releases, we will announce our May sales results for the 4 weeks ending the Sunday, May 31, next Wednesday, June 3, after market close.

With that, I will open it up for Q&A and turn it back to Joseph. Thank you.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) We have our first question from Simeon Gutman from Morgan Stanley.

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Simeon Ari Gutman, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [2]

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Richard, I know we have to wait until we get the May results, but I don't know how much you can preview us just given how dynamic the environment is in terms of the mix of product that's being sold, traffic to warehouse. Because of the environment, now you're starting to see other states and the stores open. Curious if there's anything you can call out as a preview for May.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [3]

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I really can't call anything as a preview. Some of the comments I made in this document as it relates to towards the end of the quarter, we saw certain things pick up. The fact that we went back recently to full hours, we're all better -- both us, our employees and our members are better getting through the warehouse. So seasonally, I think some of the items that were online have picked up that we've talked about. And -- but we'll wait and see next week.

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Simeon Ari Gutman, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [4]

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Okay. And then my follow-up on memberships. I think you said ex FX, they were up 6, if I caught that. Can you parse out U.S. in the quarter relative to that 6, if that is the right number? And then anything that surprised you with regard to the pace of new members' growth of the actual amount or anything geographic?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [5]

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Generally, no. But what we talked about way back when the end of Q2 and the beginning of this quarter, we saw some pick up when there was a lot of -- when we had these crazy strong numbers and people were coming in to buy all those essential in short supply, high demand and short supply items, we saw some additional sign-ups but not meaningful relative to our whole company in those weeks towards the end of February and the first half of March. Other than that, I think the fact that the traffic is down a little bit, but the average ticket is up, you've got some members that are coming in and bulking up a little more. But -- and then you have some members that are not coming in as often. So that hits you a little bit. But overall, we think that we're in pretty good stead.

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Simeon Ari Gutman, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [6]

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Okay. Can I just sneak in one more? I just want to add on...

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [7]

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Yes. One other comment is that we have also seen a switch from walk-in sign-ups to online sign-ups. And that's good. When you sign up online, I know you're also required to have auto bill, which is a positive for renewal rates in the long term.

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Simeon Ari Gutman, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [8]

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Yes. And then the last one is on e-commerce, the assortment, the SKU assortment. Any like strategic thinking that we should have a bigger assortment than you do? I think you were always adding, but is there a rethink as far as the total number of SKUs?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [9]

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I don't think necessarily -- the only total increase is where we've gone to some additional suppliers and some very limited items. So we've expanded our supplier network in some limited cases. Beyond that, it's more of a shift. It started with, if you will, some of the big and bulky items, and this started well before COVID like white goods, and that's continuing. And certainly, the strength that we've had online, whether it's reported online through our 2-day grocery or through e-commerce or certain third-party providers like Instacart and Shipt and others, all that stuff has driven some of the business from the warehouse online. And again, I think we -- if I go back 6, 8, 10 weeks ago, whatever the normal time to get something was, particularly like 2-day grocery was well more than 2 days. We're back to 2 days. Same day, our third-party suppliers had challenges. If they ramped up in the 200,000-plus new employees in a matter of weeks, that, too, has gotten a lot better in the last few weeks. So I hesitate to use the word strategic. We certainly know that big and bulky can be done very effectively online with a few displays in the warehouse as well, but have that delivered and installed through online, and that will continue. It probably has been expanding a little bit because of this, people at home, things like exercise equipment and big electronics and things.

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Operator [10]

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We have our next question from Chris Horvers from JPMorgan.

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Christopher Michael Horvers, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [11]

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So a couple of questions on the margin front. Can you talk about -- break down the ancillary margin a little bit in terms of what you saw in terms of the benefit of gas versus the headwinds that you would see from mixing down in those other categories. And as you look ahead, given where you see gas prices are at this point, would you expect that benefit of gas to -- if prices held to be higher in the current quarter?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [12]

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Well, there was a perfect good storm in the last quarter as it relates to margins in gas. And I think there's -- not even our information, but there's public information on strength in retailers that sell gasoline in terms of gross margins. We certainly benefited from that. A little offset to that was a reduced number of gallons. But nonetheless, it was particularly strong. I think that's evidenced in the matrix.

You have higher margins on some of those other ancillary businesses. Like optical and hearing aid, while small in size, there's a higher-margin because we have to account for the additional cost of optometrists and hearing aid technicians and the like. And so those types of things, gas being the biggest piece of it towards the other stuff, but it all ends up, it was net-net good for us in the quarter.

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Christopher Michael Horvers, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [13]

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And so was there any -- did you have any impact in terms of like the apparel category? Did you have to take any markdowns? And as you look ahead, how are you thinking about that -- the potential risk of that category impacting? Or are you seeing some rebound in that category and don't expect that to be a headwind in the next quarter?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [14]

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Fortunately, we haven't seen a lot of markdowns. I mean apparel for us is a pretty -- there's a big component of it that's seasonal. And when this thing first started, we were able to talk to suppliers and work deals where, in some cases, certain things hadn't been made yet or they had the raw materials, but they hadn't finished the product. So let's pay for part of the finish -- for the raw materials but hold off until next season. We've held on -- we'll have -- we've -- one of the reasons we went and borrowed money was looking at the worst case, which, in our view, has not happened. But what if we had to hold some big volumes of seasonal stuff, we were going to -- whatever commitments we had, we were going to respect.

But I think the combination of working with our vendors as well as -- sales have rebounded in those areas a little more than expected. It's not that people are coming in, going down every aisle. Some are just going and getting their essentials and heading out of Dodge. But at the end of the day, I think as the weather has turned, we've been a little bit more -- felt a little more good about things. Who knows what tomorrow brings, though.

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Christopher Michael Horvers, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [15]

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Okay. And then just the last question also on gross margin. Did you mention that e-commerce was actually a benefit? Most retailers we've seen have a substantial headwind as e-commerce growth accelerated, but it didn't seem to occur here because -- so could you elaborate on that?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [16]

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Well, first of all, it's -- like, I think everybody, for us, it's certainly a lower-margin business as we try to build it over time. Where the gross margin -- it's really the gross margin dollars are stronger because of the huge sales volume. We are spending more money in it. And so probably -- I don't have it in front of me, but as a percent of profits as a percent of sales, I'm sure, is down a little bit, and that's expected. But the total gross margin dollars are up simply because of the sheer strength of it.

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Operator [17]

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We have our next question from Michael Lasser from UBS.

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Michael Lasser, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst of Consumer Hardlines [18]

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Richard, are you reaching an upper bound of your membership potential in the U.S. with the view that if a pandemic is not going to motivate a regular consumer to sign up for a membership, then it may be hard for them to sign up under any scenario?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [19]

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Well, we certainly don't believe that. There's going to be 2 or 3 new normals over the next 2 or 3 years and probably not a real new normal and then with its own set of difficulties besides that. We were asked the question constantly. When I talk about this giant 10-plus fold increase in same-day grocery delivery, that's certainly because people -- there's a group of people that don't want to go out. There's others that want to come in, but they come in less frequently and buy more each time. There's going to be some new normals.

Our guess is, is that whatever it's gotten to is not going to necessarily -- does it back down a little bit at some point? Still be higher than it was the day before all this? Sure. But who knows? That's everything that we talk about every day around here. And I think over time, there's been a lot of questions, and we're happy with our renewal rates. And we're all going to have to get past this.

One of the things we and some others of, what I call the big essential retailers, we've all been fortunate that we've been open. And when you talk to people, anecdotally, they feel, frankly, more comfortable coming into Costco, which is bigger, more wide open, with certainly the 6 feet apart that we're all doing with the mask requirements. There are a few people don't like it, but there's -- most people do. So I think all the things that we're doing, including the visible things that you see in store. And then, look, at the end of the day, it's a value proposition. Our average gross margin is in the very low -- very, very low double digits, 11% or 12%, implying whatever, 13-or-so percent markup. Traditional retail grocers are in the mid- to high 20s, and other big boxes are above that. And regular retail is way above that.

So ultimately, it's got to be a combination of all those things. We got to figure out ways to get you in. And I think we've so far, at least successfully, sometimes progressively, but successfully figuring out how to get you stuff online as well. And it'll be a combination, but we'll have to see over time.

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Michael Lasser, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst of Consumer Hardlines [20]

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And my follow-up question is speaking of online, given the success that you've enjoyed as of late, coupled with the acquisition you made a couple of months ago and the overall increase in online penetration that we've witnessed across retail in the last few months, is there an inclination within Costco to push harder to market your online channel more to expand your offerings to consumers or because of the desire to still push consumers into the store that you will maintain your posture?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [21]

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Well, I think by necessity, we have responded. And maybe for those of you -- sometimes, I'm not suggesting you, Michael, but -- that feel that we've been a little stubborn or not wanting to do some of this stuff. We still want you to come in. You're going to buy more stuff when you come in, period. And we think we can do both. I mean we recognize -- and I think white goods was the best example way before COVID. 4 years ago in the U.S., we did $50 million in white good sales. 3 years later, we did $600 million on our way to $1 billion, which is getting there faster simply because of COVID right now.

Certainly, the acquisition of Innovel helps a lot of higher ticket, big and bulky items, many of which people don't want to put in their back of their suburban or trucking take home. So I think we'll have to see over time.

We feel we've also been pretty good. Again, COVID has changed things a little bit right now, doing marketing and having e-mail promotions that are in warehouse. And again, time will tell over time, and we'll figure it out together.

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Operator [22]

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We have our next question from Chuck Grom from Gordon Haskett.

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John Christopher Parke, Gordon Haskett Research Advisors - Research Associate of Retail [23]

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It's actually John Parke on for Chuck. Can you talk a little bit more about what you're seeing from a gas gallons perspective towards the end of the quarter? A crossover to those visiting the club. And then how some of those metrics have changed as certain areas have opened back up and are starting to normalize?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [24]

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Yes. Look, just driving to work, there's less gas gallons being bought. I think it has picked up a little. Just hearing from the news and seeing I know in the state of Washington, they have each day, the percentage of cars traveling on different interstates is improving a little bit. Part of it is some of the stay-at-home stuff and part of it is the weather has gotten nicer, and people want to get out of Dodge. It does -- it has to impact a little. One of our frequency catalysts -- the frequency catalysts that we've always talked about are fresh foods, executive member and gas. And so the extent that gas has come down a little bit, that hurts you a little bit. Offsetting that has been the fact that, one, the average ticket in the store was way up, which helps offset the lower traffic. And again, who knows what tomorrow brings.

We're encouraged of how we got through so far. We've seen some things pick up a little bit in the last several weeks in terms of categories or as weather turns. Certainly, some of the openings, I think, should help us. But again, we'll let you know.

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Operator [25]

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We have our next question from John Heinbockel from Guggenheim.

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John Edward Heinbockel, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [26]

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Richard, when you think about the Innovel, what's the biggest impact that's going to have from a customer perspective? And maybe it's just coincidence. It looks like if you look at some of the mailers, you've been pushing big, big and bulky a little more here. That's -- so that's not tied to Innovel. That's just what you would have done anyway.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [27]

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I think it's kind of what we would have done anyway. It certainly is because we now have the confidence that we can provide a better service at, frankly, a lower total price. Innovel was one of our suppliers that has always done a good job as have some others, but we -- and as we build more volume on it and get more density, that tool will allow us to lower the cost and lower the cost to our members.

Certainly, with that, and what we have seen, again, I think if you had asked us 4 months ago, hey, we're going to have this big COVID thing, and this is what's going to happen, we certainly weren't -- didn't know that we would sell more big and bulky items. What we're finding is, is because people are at home, notwithstanding some of the economic things of layoffs and furloughs, people are buying things for the house. We saw that again more recently was not related to big and bulky, but lawn and garden. If you had asked us 2 months ago, how is lawn and garden going to look, and we'd say that's going to not be very good because of all the economic issues.

So I think at the end of the day, we are marketing additionally right now because we have the confidence that we can -- we've seen the delivery times on certain big and bulky items improved dramatically on small groups of items as we onboard some of those items. It's a year plus process.

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John Edward Heinbockel, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [28]

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And on the savings book, thought process there, it looks like the assortment sort of getting back to normal, right, from a food and sundries standpoint. When is that fully back to normal? And do you go back to mailings or stay digital-only for now?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [29]

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We will go back to mailings in June.

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John Edward Heinbockel, Guggenheim Securities, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [30]

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And the assortment normalizes in June as well?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [31]

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Yes. For the most part, yes.

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Operator [32]

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We have our next question from Karen Short from Barclays.

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Karen Fiona Short, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - Research Analyst [33]

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A couple of questions on, I guess, e-com in general. Wondering first within the membership growth, any color you could provide on growth in online sign-ups versus walk-in? And then I wanted to just ask a little bit more about e-com generally. I mean I know you've kind of -- obviously, you're blessed and cursed with very high-velocity units than you've had to do the distancing, which has impacted traffic, but would that kind of cause you to rethink potentially much more robust click-and-collect model? And then I just had one other follow-up.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [34]

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Well, first of all, in terms of online sign-ups, a member that -- again, there are some members that aren't coming in and coming in less frequently. To the extent they didn't come in the first part of this month, and this is normally when they would come in and when they went through the checkout, they would notify them that they're up for renewal, they're now getting their e-mail, which they would have gotten had they not renewed. And so that's pushing some of it that way. Certainly, that -- there certainly anecdotally have been plenty of people that have signed up and become members simply because of the 1-day fresh or the 2-day dry on grocery. And we're seeing -- so we're seeing a big push.

I think it's too early to tell what happens in the future. I think more of it will go online just like everything else in life, and we'll do that.

In terms of click and collect, we have very limited click and collect right now. It's in some of those high-value jewelry, small electronics. We did add pharmacy to it, and that's not only click and collect. That's click and deliver through -- we're expanding. We're not everywhere yet with the benefit of Instacart. Tires were doing that where you could go online, order it and schedule it -- schedule your tire installation.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [35]

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Photo.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [36]

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Photo. So we are doing more things. But if you're asking the question to buy online and pick up in store, in general, we're not looking at doing that on a regular product basis.

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Unidentified Company Representative, [37]

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Delivery?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [38]

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We do delivery instead, again, through third parties in a big way as well as around 2 day.

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Karen Fiona Short, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - Research Analyst [39]

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Okay. And then I mean I know it kind of seems like a lifetime from now. But when we look towards the fall as it relates to merchandising, like back to school, Halloween, I guess the question is, well, 2, how much flexibility do you have to pivot to the extent that there really isn't much of Halloween or back to school? And then the second question is just bigger picture. Everybody loves to go to Costco for the sampling. So I'm just curious how you think about that going forward. Is that something that we'll not likely ever see again? Is there anything that you're discussing in terms of how you could reintroduce that safely? Anything there?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [40]

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Karen, I missed the second part of the question. In terms of how do we feel -- our ability to pivot it, and look, if you go back 2 or 3 months -- 3 months ago, we were cutting order -- reducing orders, recognizing there's going to be plenty of merchandise out there in these categories. Certainly, for things like Christmas, we -- I think we reduced the selection of a few things. And so a little more regular items than out there items, but -- and now we're pivoting to try to get a few of those items, which are available. So I think -- frankly, I think in some ways, it's been easier for us because we have so many fewer SKUs, and we're willing to try a few new things.

And now I didn't get the second part of your question.

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Karen Fiona Short, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - Research Analyst [41]

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The other part of it was just people love going to Costco for sampling, food sampling. That's a big part of the experience. So how are you thinking about that, just bigger picture, when we get to a new kind of abnormal?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [42]

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We're going to start doing some things in mid-June on a slow rollout basis in sampling. I can't tell you anymore, but it's, needless to say, not going to be where you go and just pick up an open sample with your fingers. But sampling and both food and nonfood items are popular -- and road shows as well. I think you'll see a little bit more excitement on the road show side. So things that we can do to get people excited about coming in.

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Operator [43]

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We have our next question from Greg Badishkanian from Wolfe Research.

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Spencer Christian Hanus, Wolfe Research, LLC - Research Analyst [44]

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This is actually Spencer Hanus on for Greg. Just turning to e-commerce again. Can you give us any color on the repeat rates that you're seeing from the new customers that it looks like you're adding to the platform? And then have you been able to take advantage of some of the lower online advertising costs that are in the marketplace today?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [45]

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On the second question, the latter question, I don't know. I'm not up to speed on that in terms of lower prices. I would assume -- it's what I've read in the paper in general. So I'd assume we have some of that ability, recognizing we don't spend a lot to start with.

On the first question was what? Repeat business.

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Spencer Christian Hanus, Wolfe Research, LLC - Research Analyst [46]

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[What are the -- what's the repeating rate?]

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [47]

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Yes. You know what, that's another one that I don't know off the top of my head. Sorry.

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Spencer Christian Hanus, Wolfe Research, LLC - Research Analyst [48]

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Great. And then just if we could turn to small business customers, can you talk about what you're seeing there? How did the sales go throughout the quarter for that segment of your customer base?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [49]

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Well, look, I mean, foodservice-related small business is down everywhere. It's been helped a little bit by some of -- we're less about serving the big restaurant change, but the mom-and-pop restaurants. And so the takeouts in your neighborhood, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Thai, those types of things, they're doing some business. Arguably, what business we're losing on some of those things we're gaining because you're eating at home. So overall, I think just in looking at fresh foods and the food items of what we call food and sundries, it's been way up, particularly in fresh foods and somewhat in the rest. So I think overall, we've been blessed. Now the question beyond that is what happens when everything opens up. I think it's going to be a -- the new normal is still going to take some time, and we -- you see on the news that even in states where it's been open, there's not everybody running to sit down, and then there's restrictions on how many people can be in a certain place at this given time. So again, having fresh foods has been certainly something that has been very positive for us.

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Operator [50]

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We have our next question from Kelly Bania from BMO Capital.

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Kelly Ann Bania, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - Director & Equity Analyst [51]

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Richard, I think you mentioned executive penetration, if I heard it correctly, was up 135,000, which seemed to be just a little bit of a slowdown. I'm wondering if it was just impacted by the environment and if you have to do anything to change your process in terms of convincing members to upgrade there.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [52]

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Yes. It fluctuates all over the board. Certainly, it shows improvement when we add a country like we've done in Japan and Korea in the last couple of years. It certainly is down from its peak a few years back. Probably, the biggest things are that getting back to traffic. That is down a little bit. The other thing is, one of the things we do in-store lock is something we internally call e-block or electronic block. So based on when your membership is scanned, based on your historical purchases, it makes all the sense in the world for you to upgrade to an executive member. We've chosen for the last couple of few months not to do e-block because it's one-on-one direct contact with the member while they're waiting in line at the register. And so we've probably -- my guess would be a little higher, but -- and then we haven't opened a lot of warehouses year-to-date. So we'll get back to normal on these things, but I -- we don't -- it does not raise the concern for us at all at this point.

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Kelly Ann Bania, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - Director & Equity Analyst [53]

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Okay. And just as a follow-up. In terms of renewal rates, I think you mentioned any impact from COVID there will be in the next few months? Maybe just -- can you give us any color on what we should expect to see? I was thinking maybe there could be a positive impact to renewal rates from this environment, but any color you can share would be helpful.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [54]

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Well, we do what's called -- we've always done it this way, a fully captured rate for renewal rates. So let's say you signed up originally in January. And so in sometime in December, you get your renewal notice. And let's say, we ultimately get to that 91% renewal rate in the U.S. and Canada. By the end of January, you went for all the people that signed up in January, maybe by the end of January -- I'm making these numbers up here, at 75%. And by the end of February, you're at 82%. And the end of March, you're at 85%. And it takes -- you might even get the last 0.5% or 1% of that renewal rate 6 months out because it's -- if somebody that is a snowbird or somebody that just doesn't come in that often, there's always going to be that.

In addition, whenever you have a group of new members irrespective of whether it's online and in-store or in a new country, you have a lower renewal rate in that first prospective year, and then it builds each year over as your 3 becomes the combination of somebody renewing for the second time at a higher percentage than those that signed up originally in year 2 and renewing for the first time in year 3. So -- and I just want -- we don't know which direction. We know that -- we wanted to say that because we don't know where it's going to go, but the renewal rate right now is mostly related to stuff that happened 4, 5 and 6 months ago and 7 months ago.

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Operator [55]

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We have our next question from Paul Lejuez from Citi.

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Paul Lawrence Lejuez, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [56]

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Richard, can you remind us of the economics of an online order in terms of basket size and what's in that basket? And then separately, curious if there are any categories within the box that you would say you're a bit high from an inventory perspective.

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [57]

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Well, first of all, from online, there's regular online, which includes a lot of the big-ticket items. So I don't have the number in front of me, but if our -- if in-store, the -- during regular times, the average front-end transaction was in the 160 range -- 140 range. I'm sorry, 140 range. Online, which include a lot of big-ticket items was probably 300 to 400 range. As we've added -- as we added 2-day grocery, that number has come down. Certainly, while we don't again include e-com, the same-day grocery, the likes of Instacart and others come in and do, that's going to be lower as well. So all these things are in flux right now.

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Paul Lawrence Lejuez, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [58]

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Got you. And then on the inventory side?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [59]

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Again, I'm happy to report this less than we braced for the worst case a few months ago or a couple of months ago and when we decided to raise some extra capital. Might we have to take things like seasonal apparel and seasonal lawn and garden and luggage -- we do have some luggage to sell you, but it's a small category. But at the end of the day, all those things are less than we thought. So yes, there will be a small amount of items of -- I mean probably in the few hundred to several hundred million dollars that will hold for a season or up to a year. But these are not things that are going out of style even in items like apparel, which, again, I think we did -- our buyers did a very good job of mitigating that impact initially with suppliers. And also, it's come back a little better than we thought. Not all the way back by any stretch, but better than we thought.

And in addition, we're not exactly high fashion where things are going out of style. A lot of the things that we have, whether it's some furniture items or apparel. Our senior merchant in the room is not pleased with that comment. But yes, we're basic. We're fashion basic. We're not (inaudible) about that.

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Paul Lawrence Lejuez, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [60]

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Got you. Got you. And then just, Richard, what percent of members shop the club in 3Q versus last year? And did this quarter mark a peak in that metric?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [61]

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I've never looked at it. I mean it's a good question. We'll have that for next time. Certainly, it's a lower percentage this quarter simply because of new members or people that have decided -- I mean I have friends that have not chosen not to go physically anywhere, and they're having things delivered, and they love the same-day fresh. So my guess is, it's come down a little.

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Operator [62]

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We have our next question from Greg Melich from Evercore.

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Gregory Scott Melich, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD [63]

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So Richard, it seems -- sounds like e-commerce was probably 8% of the business in the quarter. And if I'm interpreting it correctly, should we think of it as that, that would have grown to over 10% if you include the Instacart as part of the e-commerce?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [64]

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Yes. Yes.

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Gregory Scott Melich, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD [65]

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Okay. And then second is on inflation. You talked about obviously deflation in gas and what that did to the top line. Has there been any inflation, especially given some of the shortages and proteins, et cetera, that's worth noting as an offset?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [66]

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Overall -- ex gas, overall, it's very small. I'm actually guessing because it's a lot more sales volume than it is inventory level. But on certain limited items, we've seen extreme examples were like eggs for a period of time, some of the protein items like meat. But I would guess that it's impacting us a little less than others in some of those categories because of some of our supplier relationships and strength, but it depends on -- and it's coming back now. It's coming down. So overall, it's, I would say, very little difference (inaudible).

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Gregory Scott Melich, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD [67]

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Got it. And then on Innovel, just a follow-up on that, how much of Innovel's business was distributing other people's things? And where does that revenue show up? And how are you thinking about either growing or reallocating that capacity?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [68]

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Well, keep in mind, this -- Innovel was a business built over decades to serve Sears, its owner. And Sears, of course, has come down dramatically over the last few years. And while I can't disclose all the numbers I'm aware of, the component that was actually still servicing their needs had come down. And then also, they had gone through their own reorganization as a retail company. And with that, I think they lost the business along the way. So there's an infrastructure and a capacity in place -- infrastructure in place with great capacity. And so we view this as an ability to do great things with.

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Gregory Scott Melich, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Senior MD [69]

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Could you describe that capacity a little bit like number of employees or footage or footage or...

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [70]

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The employees were about -- I think the employees were 1,550 -- 1,500. There are about 100 -- there's about -- there's, I think, 11 large facilities, call it, the roughly 800,000 to 1.2 million square foot facilities. And then about 105 smaller facilities, which could be as small as 8,000 or 10,000 feet or as big as 50 or 60, and spread out generally serving, I think, 85% or 90% of the U.S.. And again, there's a lot of ability to -- it has a lot of capacity. And we were doing -- we've worked with them for 5-plus years, I believe, and -- but like anyone else working with them, we're doing a small piece of our business because we didn't know what was happening to the business as parent was going through its own restructuring.

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Operator [71]

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We have our last question from Rupesh Parikh from Oppenheimer.

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Erica A Eiler, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - Equity Research Associate [72]

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This is actually Erica Eiler on for Rupesh. So I wanted to touch on the store capacity restrictions that you put in place. You talked a little bit about the impact from some of the ancillary businesses being closed had on your sales. Are you able to quantify for us what you think the impact may have been to sales from the store capacity limitations and restrictions that you put in place? And as things start to open back up in certain markets, are there any changes in these restrictions you put in place? And can we expect to see these restrictions weigh upon sales for a bit longer?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [73]

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Well, the only thing that we pointed -- I pointed out earlier was is those businesses like optical, hearing aid, a reduced food court, those things was somewhere in the middle between 1 and 2 percentage points impact in Q3. Aside from that, when we went from generally closing Monday through Friday at 8:30, we went to, I think, 6, but we also added an hour in the morning for elderly and expanded that from 2 days to 3 days to now to all 5 weekdays. We have not tried to quantify that.

I can tell you that when we've had some very busy locations historically, and we said, let's add an hour in the morning or an hour later at night, what we found is we tend to just spread the business. So I think the same thing here. There's not a lot of big impact other than our view -- our qualitative view was that there's a lot more impact from shelter-in-place and stay-at-home and come in and get what you need and leave than there is from anything else. And again, it's that I was encouraged by some of the things I've seen with a couple of the other retail apparel stores that have just started to open and are showing good numbers because people are coming back. So I think net-net is encouraging, but I don't think it's a big -- it was a big impact to us either way. By the way, yes, there was -- there was and you noticed our numbers, Canada was weaker than the U.S. In Canada -- in Quebec, there's actually -- there's current outstanding limitations of Sunday closes, which is new over the last few months. And there's also, I think, been a little bit more stricter generally over -- up there -- either stricter or people listening better to stay-at home issues. And so we've seen -- in a country where we're the only game in town in terms of warehouse clubs, we've seen weaker traffic, and therefore, slightly weaker numbers in the U.S.

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Erica A Eiler, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - Equity Research Associate [74]

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Okay. Well, I guess that's a good segue into my next question. So I was just curious on the international side. If there's any more color you can provide on what you're seeing internationally with regards to coronavirus impacts. Are there any notable differences in terms of behavior or any other call-outs versus the U.S.?

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Richard A. Galanti, Costco Wholesale Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Director [75]

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Well, I think -- again, I'm putting on my blinders for a minute. I mean Taiwan and China are the most encouraging. China, we have one location, of course, that has been open for less than a year, so we don't have a year-over-year comparison. Taiwan is quite strong. Japan is quite strong, maybe a few weeks behind that. We see Australia coming back. So overall, that gives us encouraging news for the U.S. and Canada, but part of that answer is so what until we see it.

Okay. Well, thank you, everyone, and me and my guys here are around to answer questions. Have a good day.