Consumers Seek Out Clean Stores

C-store customers want sparkling bathrooms and hand sanitizer stations, a NACS survey shows.

June 15, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, VA—As communities and states enter new stages of re-opening, more drivers will be on the roads, whether commuting to work or visiting reopened businesses—and that could present opportunities for convenience stores.

More than three in four consumers (79%) say their communities will reopen by June 15, according to a May 2020 national consumer survey conducted for NACS by PSB Insights. And 84% of drivers surveyed say they will be visiting convenience stores on their journeys: 23% say they will shop at convenience stores as part of their regular routine, 38% say they will shop at stores when they need something, and an additional 23% say they will only purchase gas.

But what will entice them to come to your store as travel picks up? In short: A focus on cleanliness.

With gas prices still relatively low, consumers are looking to other offers within the store, with safety and comfort with store operations now paramount. Nearly half of customers surveyed (48%) say they have a store brand preference, and 37% of those with a preference say that cleanliness is a factor driving that preference.

The good news is that convenience stores were early adopters in addressing protective measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 99% of NACS retailer members responding to a March 2020 NACS Retailer Member survey said they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 30 minutes.

Here are some other cleanliness-focused insights from the NACS Consumer Survey.

  • Cash sales are down. The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21% to 14%, which may be the lowest it could go given how many consumers are shying away from handling cash in the current climate.
  • Hand sanitizer access is the top priority for consumers. Consumers rated access to hand sanitizer in-store and at the fuel pump as the top two choices when asked which enhanced safety procedures they thought were appropriate to implement at convenience stores:
    • 68%: Provide free hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes at all entrances
    • 67%: Provide free hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes at all gas pumps
    • 65%: Require all employees to wear masks
    • 65%: Require all stores to do enhanced cleaning and disinfecting multiple times per day
    • 60% Require all customers to stay six feet apart when in the store
    • 57%: Limit the number of customers allowed in the store at one time
    • 57%: Install screens or Plexiglas sneeze guards
    • 55%: Require all customers to wear masks
    • 51%: Temperature check all employees daily
    • 48%: Require all employees to wear gloves
    • 27%: Temperature check all customers before entering
  • Bathrooms and other customers are top safety concerns. Consumers said that bathrooms were the biggest concern for exposure to COVID-19, followed by other customers. When asked what they are greatly concerned about, consumer cited:
    • 54%: Bathrooms
    • 47%: Other customers
    • 44%: Doors and surfaces
    • 43%: Self-serve food stations (like roller grill)                                                                                                   
    • 42%: Self-serve coffee and fountain drink stations                                                                                                   
    • 40% Gas pumps                                                                                                   
    • 39%: Overall cleanliness of the store                                                                                                   
    • 37%: Cleanliness of employees                                                                                                   
    • 35%: Prepared food                                                                                                   
    • 34%: Handling payment/debit card keypads                                                                                                   
    • 34%: Refrigerator/cooler doors

“The findings show that there are opportunities for convenience retailers to tell their positive stories related to store cleaning protocols, and capture sales from consumers increasingly looking to reestablish routines. Those who can address consumer concerns about cleanliness and build upon that with a compelling offer can find ways to grow their sales over the coming months,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

The national consumer survey was conducted online by PSB Insights; 1,100 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed from May 15-18, 2020. Reference is also made to a similar January 24-30 consumer survey of 1,253 American drivers.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.