Fewer Commuters Means Fewer C-Store Trips

The morning daypart still hasn’t recovered, and lunchtime is softening, too, PDI/NACS Insights show.

August 04, 2020

By Kim Stewart

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—It’s no surprise that the pandemic has changed commuters’ everyday routines, and convenience retailers and quick-service restaurants alike are battling for a shrinking share of trips. The weekday morning daypart remains stalled at 85% of year-ago trips for convenience stores, while lunchtime trips also show signs of slipping, according to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.

For the two-week period ended July 26, overall trips declined. During the 11 a.m. to 2:59 p.m. daypart, trips fell to 88% of year-ago trips from 90% for the prior two-week period ended July 12. Many former commuters are still working from home amid continued concerns about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. Returning restrictions in some areas of the country are playing their part, and summer vacation travel impact is likely mixed as some consumers are curtailing their usual summer road travel, while others choose to drive instead of fly.

Although consumers still aren’t visiting c-stores as often as they did before the pandemic, the good news is that they continue to spend more per trip, the latest consumer behavior insights from PDI and NACS show. Basket spend continues to be about 20% higher than the prior year. Dollar spend in the two weeks ended July 26 inched higher compared with the prior two-week period—up 21.5% vs. a 19.2% increase.

“Rising cases of COVID-19 will likely continue to adversely affect c-store trips,” said Dafna Gabel, vice president of Insights, PDI Insights Cloud. “Economic pressures that can worsen with expiring unemployment benefits make it paramount that retailers and manufacturers continue to deliver value and be resourceful in offering product choices that support some of the changed behaviors (large pack sizes, non-traditional categories, for example). Being able to adapt quickly remains as important as ever.”

Year-over-year dollars continue to weaken, primarily because trips are declining. Cigarettes and packaged beverages, which are the two largest c-store categories on a per-dollar basis, contracted during the two-week period (+3.4% and +7.4%, respectively, vs. +5.3% and +10.5%, respectively, for the two weeks ended July 12).

Here are some additional insights for the period ended July 26, 2020: 

  • Dollar sales growth declined from the prior two-week period (+4.9% for the week ended July 26 and +5.9% for the week ended July 19 vs. +6.7% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Weekly basket spend increased year over year (+21.5% vs. +19.2% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Trips remain on the downswing (-13.2% vs. -10.5% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Foodservice trips still have ground to recover (-24.9% vs. -22.6% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Packaged beverages’ trips slipped back into the red after earlier progress (-1.8% vs. +1.8% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Cold dispensed beverages’ trips edged lower (-32.3% vs. -27.2% for the two weeks ended July 12).
  • Cigarettes’ trips softened (-11% vs. -9.3% for the two weeks ended July 12).

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.