C-Store Trips and Spending Stall

After upward momentum in early summer, the sector is stuck in idle mode, PDI/NACS Insights show.

August 18, 2020

By Kim Stewart

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Weekly trips and basket spend at U.S. convenience stores held relatively steady during the first two weeks of August, compared with the last two weeks of July as COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily routines in communities across the U.S., according to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.

For the two-week period ended August 9, there was a marginal decline in dollars, primarily because year-over-year spend edged lower, the report indicates. Trips overall remained steady—down 13.4% year-over-year versus down 13.2% for the two weeks ended July 26.

Weekly basket spend (dollars per transaction) dipped slightly on a year-over-year basis, compared with the prior two-week period (+20.9% vs. +21.5% for the two weeks ended July 26) after climbing during the two weeks ended July 12.

There was little shift in trips or spend across the top five c-store categories—cigarettes, packaged beverages, lottery/gaming, beer and other tobacco products (OTP). Beer (+0.9%) is the only category among the top five that was in the black during the two-week period.

Other categories with positive weekly spend year-over-year include wine (+12.5%), liquor (+12.2%), general merchandise (+8.7%), other dairy/deli products (+0.8%) and packaged ice cream/novelties (+0.8%).

Hot dispensed beverages, cold dispensed beverages and frozen dispensed beverages are still struggling to regain trips and spend. Soda fountains, self-pour coffee and other self-serve beverages were quickly shut down during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring, and some have yet to reopen. Fewer trips during the crucial breakfast and lunchtime dayparts also weigh on these categories.

The weekday morning rush (7 a.m. to 9:59 a.m.) is still idling at 85% of prior year traffic, with only minor gains in the afternoon and evening dayparts. Schools in some areas of the country are starting to reopen for in-person classes, which could boast the morning daypart, and researchers will be looking for any upward trends in the coming weeks.

Here are some additional insights for the period ended August 9, 2020: 

  • Dollar sales growth remained in line with the prior two-week period (+4.8% vs. +4.9% for the week ended July 26).
  • Cigarettes’ trips held steady (-11.1% vs. -11% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Packaged beverages’ trips are still in the red after earlier progress (-2.1% vs. -1.8% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Lottery/gaming trips declined (-8.8% vs. -7.9% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Beer trips were flat (+0.9% vs. +0.9% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Other tobacco products trips declined (-8.9% vs. -7.9% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Foodservice trips gave up some ground (-25.1% vs. -24.9% for the two weeks ended July 26).
  • Cold dispensed beverages’ trips remain flat (-32.4% vs. -32.3% for the two weeks ended July 26).

Powered by PDI Insights Cloud, the report provides consumer trip and basket-level data and analysis that will enable essential businesses around the United States to deliver what their customers want and need right now. The report combines consumer buying data from 5,500 mid- to large-size convenience retail sites across all key geographic locations.

Click here to read the free two-page summary, and click here to get the full report from PDI, including category sales analysis.

Kim Stewart is editorial director of NACS and editor-in-chief of NACS Magazine.