Sales rise at convenience stores, but not at the pump

Marianne Wilson
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In-store sales are up at convenience stores, but fuel sales continue to lag.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in a new NACS survey of U.S. convenience store owners said that that in-store sales through the first nine months of 2020 were higher than the same time period a year ago. And 64% said in-store sales were up in September compared to last year. But fuel sales continue to lag as COVID-19 continues to affect traditional commuting patterns.

Nearly three in four (74%) retailers said fuel sales were down over the third quarter (July through September), which roughly coincided with summer-drive season. Convenience retailers, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the U.S., are not optimistic about fuel sales quickly recovering: 61% expect fuel sales to be down the rest of the year and 20% expect fuel sales to “significantly decrease.”

The survey found that COVID-19 continues to affect store operations as more convenience retailers embrace new ways to offer convenience during the pandemic:
•    21% have added curbside pickup;
•    21% have added contactless payment;
•    14% are focusing more on drive thru; and
•    14% have added delivery.

Meanwhile, 46% said they have reduced store operating hours, whether to provide deep cleaning or manage labor hours. The coin shortage also affected store operations. 

Traditionally, about 40% of in-store sales are by cash but most retailers (59%) said payments by cash have fallen since March. Still, 43% said that the coin shortage affected their operations, with 7% saying it significantly affected operations to the point they had or still have periods where they did not allow customers to pay in cash or receive change in coins.

Looking ahead, retailers are focused on several issues, including keeping employees and customers safe by diligently cleaning, staffing stores and developing new programs to offset the decrease in fuel sales. 

The NACS Retailer Member Pulse Survey was conducted in early October by NACS Research.