What happened

BJ's Wholesale (BJ 0.54%) shares dramatically outperformed a weak market last month by gaining 32% compared to a 12.5% drop in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The increase helped make the regional wholesale retailer a standout this year, with the stock up 13% so far in 2020 compared to a 23% slump in the broader market.

A man pushing a full shopping cart at a warehouse.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Investors were happy with elements of BJ's fourth-quarter earnings report, which paired modest sales growth with faster membership fee income. Yet the bigger factor pushing the stock higher was the spread of COVID-19 containment measures and the related spike in demand for groceries and other home essentials. BJ's, along with peers like Costco and Walmart, saw historically high sales volumes through most of March.

Now what

The warehouse retailer's clubs are deemed essential, and so they continue to operate even through various shelter-in-place orders currently impacting its sales footprint. There's no way to predict how long social distancing efforts will last or how quickly the economy will recover after the virus threat has passed. But BJ's is likely to see a significant, if short-term, sales lift as it delivers consumer staples products through the duration of the pandemic.