Trips in Key C-Store Categories Contract

U.S. consumers are still spending more per visit, though, PDI/NACS Insights show.

September 22, 2020

By Kim Stewart

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Increased traffic over the Labor Day weekend temporarily boosted trips at U.S. convenience stores, but the key end-of-the-summer holiday period fell short of the year-ago holiday’s results, according to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 continues to impact consumer behavior.

Trips in the week leading up to Labor Day (week ended September 6) were up +3% compared with the prior week and down -7.9% vs. a year ago (week ended September 9, 2019)—a rate last seen at the start of March. Comparing the 2020 holiday weekend (Friday, September 4 to Monday, September 7) to last year’s holiday weekend (Friday, August 30 to Monday, September 2, 2019) trips were down -10.1%, which is in line with the overall trip decline rate in the convenience channel since May. Overall, for the three weeks ended September 13, trips were down -12.7% compared with a year ago.

Ahead of Labor Day, trips were lower across all dayparts, with the key weekday morning rush (7 to 9:59 a.m.) at 80% of prior-year trips, compared with 83% for the two weeks ended August 23 and 85% for the two weeks ended August 9. However, gains made leading up to Labor Day were lost during the week of the holiday, with fewer trips likely tied to lower Monday traffic.

Basket spend (dollars per transaction) continue to be strong compared with the prior year, up about +20%, with small weekly fluctuations. The “new normal” pattern persists, with lower trips vs. the prior year but larger baskets.

Dollar sales growth continues to be in the low single digits, but lower than the past few months. During the three weeks ended September 13, dollar sales were up +3.9% year over year, compared with +5.3% growth for the three weeks ended August 16. Weekly fluctuations were more pronounced, with +0.6% year-over-year growth during the week ended August 30, +10.2% during the week ended September 6 and +1% for the week ended September 13.

Packaged beverages’ trips slipped back into the red (-3.8%) after marking a return to positive territory during the two weeks ended August 23 (+0.6%). Beer remained in positive territory (+1.4%), although it gave up prior ground recovered during the prior two-week period (+2.5% ).

The general merchandise (+10%), liquor (+7.7%) and wine (+9.5%) categories remain strong performers.

Here are some additional insights for the period ended September 13, 2020, compared with the two-week period ended August 23, 2020: 

  • Cold dispensed beverage trips gave up earlier gains (-32.1% vs. -27.8%)
  • Hot dispensed beverage trips improved (-24.8% vs. -31.4%)
  • Cigarettes’ trips remained nearly flat (-10.1% vs. -10.3%).
  • Other tobacco products’ trips idled (-8.8% vs. -8.7%).
  • Salty snacks’ trips were relatively unchanged (-13% vs. -12.5%).
  • Foodservice trips continued to improve (-18.2% vs. -23.5%).

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.