Consumer Spending at C-Stores Strengthens

Although trips slipped, foodservice performance is improving, PDI/NACS Insights show.

January 12, 2021

By Kim Stewart

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Shoppers at U.S. convenience stores opened up their wallets a bit more in the lead up to the year-end holidays, and the foodservice, general merchandise and hot dispensed beverages categories benefited from the increased spend per transaction compared with the year-earlier period, according to the latest monthly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is affecting consumer behavior. 

Still, dollar sales have contracted (slipping from +2.7% for the five weeks ended November 29, 2020, to +1.9% for the five weeks ended January 3, 2021), primarily because trips stood at -13.2% for the period, compared with -12% for the prior five weeks.

Spend per transaction increased to +17.5% for the five weeks ended January 3, compared with +16.8% for the prior five-week period. During the pandemic, which is now in its 10th month in the U.S., basket spend has outpaced pre-pandemic spending as consumers continue to stock up, and prices in some categories have increased compared with last year.  

In an encouraging sign, the battered foodservice category inched up +2.9 points on a dollar basis because of a steady increase in trips, while general merchandise climbed +7.3 points, and hot dispensed beverages eked out a +0.3 point gain. Still, foodservice and hot dispensed beverages remain in negative territory, while general merchandise has benefited throughout much of the pandemic.

Trips during the key morning rush daypart between 7 a.m. and 9:59 a.m. haven’t budged from their perch since late November at 85% of prior-year trips. However, late-evening trips ( 7 p.m. to 10:59 p.m.) declined 4.2 points compared with the five weeks ended November 29, 2020.

Looking at how the final two weeks’ of 2020 stacked up against the final two weeks of 2019, dollars were up +5.4%, helped by the lottery/gaming, store services, general merchandise and prepaid cards categories. Lottery/gaming became a bigger contributor to average spend for the two weeks ended January 3, 2021.

Generally, however, it appears that the New Year’s performance was stronger than Christmas. Store services once again saw a significant increase at the start of the month, but December trips were up +34%, compared with only +7.3% in the preceding five weeks.

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.