Making the Routine Feel Routine to Consumers

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


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 the results of national consumer survey conducted for NACS by PSB Insights. Overall, 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 at convenience stores, which sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States.

But what will entice them to come inside the 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 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 NACS Retailer Member survey said they 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% in January to 14% in May, as many consumers are shying away from handling cash and seeking options that minimize contact.
  • Hand sanitizer access is the top priority for consumers. Consumers rated access to hand sanitizer in-store (68%) and at the fuel pump (67%) as the top two choices when asked which of 11 enhanced safety procedures they thought were appropriate to implement at convenience stores.
  • Bathrooms are top safety concerns. Consumers said bathrooms were the biggest concern for exposure to COVID-19 (54%), followed by concerns contracting the virus from other customers (47%) and from doors and surfaces (47%).
Consumers also weighed in on community engagement. More than one in three consumers said they would be much more likely to shop at a store that was actively supporting charitable causes.
  • The more direct the donation, the better: Distributing food (30%) and personal protective equipment (18%) directly to those needing them rated the highest when consumers were asked to name the most important donation—ahead of grants and donations to food banks (16%) or monetary contributions to hospital workers (11%).
  • All news is local: If businesses are doing charitable work, consumers most want to see it on the local news (69%), far ahead of social media (42%) and in-store signage (35%).
  • Charity is contagious. When asked what actions they would take as a result of a store doing charitable work, 39% said they would tell others about it. And it may also spur a movement: 34% would donate directly to that charity, and 29% would join a fundraiser.

“The great news is that consumers are aware of how our industry serves communities. A record 78% of consumers surveyed said that convenience stores share their values and do business the right way,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

“The findings also show that there are opportunities for convenience retailers to capture sales from consumers increasingly looking to reestablish routines. Those who can address consumer concerns about cleanliness and their communities and build upon that with a compelling offer can find ways to grow their sales over the coming months,” added 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.