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04/05/2021

C-store retailers predict that summer drive will be near ‘normal’ levels 

Marianne Wilson
Editor-in-Chief
Marianne Wilson profile picture
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Convenience store retailers expect that leisure travel and routine customer trips will return to pre-pandemic levels this summer.

Fifty-two percent of convenience store retailers say that summer travel and commuting patterns will be close to pre-pandemic levels, according to the results of a NACS survey of U.S. convenience store owners. However, 28% don’t expect to see traditional travel patterns emerge until 2022. Retailers anticipate growth in categories such as dispensed cold beverages and coffee (43% foresee growth), as well as immediate consumption prepared foods (62%).  

“Retailers are optimistic that traditional driving routines are returning—from the morning commute to the family summer road trip—and that’s great news not just for our industry but for the overall economy,” said NACS vice chairman of research and technology Andy Jones, who operates Sprint Food Stores, based in Augusta, Georgia.

Convenience stores, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, experienced a 13% decrease in fuel sales and less customer traffic throughout the pandemic.  The pandemic-related decrease in commuting and vehicle miles driven during the past year led to shifts in morning traffic and sales at convenience stores, with coffee and breakfast food sales off by 10% to 15%. 

Convenience retailers are now reestablishing their locations as morning daypart destinations: 40% are offering discounts for repeat purchases, and 27% are promoting offers that incentivize shoppers to return for discounts.

Other highlights from the survey are below.

• Before the pandemic, most items sold at convenience stores (83%) were consumed within an hour of purchase. But as more consumers have relied on convenience stores for take-home items, retailers also expect those sales to increase: 36% are focusing on multi-serve meals and prepared foods for future consumption, and 13% are expecting more stock-up grocery and pantry item sales.

• Convenience retailers  will continue safety protocols, with 71% encouraging their employees to get vaccinated. The most common incentives offered are paid time off to get a vaccine (34%), coordinating a vaccine location specific to their employees (26%) or offering monetary incentives (10%).

• When asked which retail innovations they saw in 2020 that they will apply to their stores, most convenience retailers said contactless payments and last-mile offers such as home delivery and curbside pickup will grow. Tying together new offers that emerged during the pandemic, 20% will expand services like drive-thrus, delivery and curbside pickup.