Convenience Stores Ready to Serve Commuters

NACS consumer research suggests opportunities for retailers to help commuters reestablish routines.

May 27, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—More than half (58%) of all consumers say their communities will reopen more non-essential businesses within the next two weeks, and they expect to be commuting but at a lower level, according to new consumer research from NACS.

Overall, two in five adult Americans (38%) say they are currently commuting, down from 57% who said they were commuting before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means fully one-third of all commuters are off the roads, even after some recent increases.

“The return of more commuters is certainly good news for the convenience store industry, which sells 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, and food and beverages that are the staple of rush-hour routines. Retailers look forward to providing those everyday essentials and are continuing to enhance operations with a focus on cleanliness and safety,” said Jeff Lenard , NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • Reopening is underway in communities, but it’s mixed what consumers will do. Overall, 58% of consumers say their community will reopen within the next two weeks: 39% say their community is reopening now and an additional 19% say their communities will reopen within the next two weeks. However, routines will be tougher to establish: 69% of Americans say they will delay normal work and travel.
  • A return to routine for some. Consumers expect to commute again, but not fully. Before the pandemic, 39% said they commuted at least five days a week, compared with 37% who did not commute. Going forward, 27% expect to commute five or more days a week, a 12-point drop. Meanwhile, 43% will not commute at all, a six-point increase.
  • Commuter routines will return slowly, but some routines never went away. Overall, 7% of Americans say they purchased items at a convenience store daily during the pandemic, the same percentage that was recorded in January 2020. Overall, 45% have bought something at a convenience store in the past week. However, it may take longer to establish routines with commuters: One in four Americans (23%) who will commute say they will immediately return to their normal routines at convenience stores.
  • Cash purchases have declined. The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21% to 14% as customers shy away from handling cash in the current climate.
  • Cleanliness is intertwined with brand preference. Nearly half (48%) of all Americans say they have a brand preference for a specific convenience store, and the reasons have evolved considerably. Preference based on gas price dipped from 58% to 53%, while cleanliness was sought by 37%. (This was not among the multiple choice options in the January survey).
  • Convenience stores are essential businesses. Because of their presence in every community in the country and offer of fuel, food and other essentials, a strong 88% of Americans say convenience stores are essential businesses. Consumers also say stores have strong values: 78% say that convenience stores share their values and do business the right way. This is an eight-point jump since January and the highest recorded in the five years the question has been asked.
  • Convenience stores save time and are enhancing safety. Consumer interest concepts like cashierless checkout, curbside pickup and delivery has grown, and all have attracted more interest over the past four months. Consumers also say that time savings is most important, with safety emerging as a second choice. Overall, safety benefits were cited by 41% interested in cashierless checkout, 38% of those seeking curbside food pickup and 27% of those who like food delivery.
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.
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