Managing through the coronavirus crisis has been made just a little bit easier by some of the big essential retail and food companies. Grocery stores like Kroger and home improvement chains like Lowe's and Home Depot have thrived as people stocked up on goods and made the best of stay-at-home restrictions. Even normally sleepy consumer staples names like Clorox have been working overtime to satisfy demand in the battle against the virus.  

So it would also make sense that the biggest retailers like Walmart and Target (NYSE:TGT) would do well in this environment. And they have. Even with competition from Amazon, both big-box chains have rolled out curbside pickup and focused on delivery. But even though it beats the S&P 500 index year to date, if you had invested $10,000 in Target at the beginning of the year, you'd be left lagging behind all of those other big names right now. 

two safe deposit boxes with different levels of cash

Image source: Getty Images.

Target's focus on digital channels has paid off during this crisis. In its first-quarter earnings period, which ended May 2, 2020, the company reported 11% comparable sales growth, with digital comparable sales rocketing 141%. It also said it experienced "healthy market-share gains across all five of its core merchandise categories."

But investors may be waiting for more when the company reports its second-quarter earnings later this week. Year-to-date returns of over 70% and 46% for Amazon and Clorox, respectively, lead the list of the above big names. Even Walmart is up double digits since the beginning of the year. Target is slightly ahead of the S&P 500, and its 6.5% return means that if you had invested $10,000 in Target to start the year, you'd have $10,650 right now. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.