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As Communities Reopen, Commuters an Opportunity for C-Stores
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As Communities Reopen, Commuters an Opportunity for C-Stores

Retailers can help returning workers reestablish routines, says NACS,


Photograph: Shutterstock

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 the National Association of Convenience Stores (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 NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

Additional highlights from the survey include:

  • Reopening is underway, but timing is mixed. Overall, 58% of consumers say their community will reopen sometime within the next two weeks: 39% say now, 19% say within the next two weeks. And 69% 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% say they commuted at least five days a week, compared to 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 6-point increase.
  • Commuter routines will return slowly, but some routines never went away. Overall, 7% of respondents 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 c-store in the last 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 c-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 respondents say they have a brand preference for a specific c-store, and the reasons have evolved considerably. Preference based on gas price dipped from 58% to 53%, while 37% sought cleanliness.
  • Convenience stores are essential businesses. Because of their presence in every community in the country, and their offer of fuel, food and other essentials, a strong 88% of respondents say c-stores are essential businesses. Consumers also say stores have strong values: 78% say that c-stores share their values and do business the right way. This is an 8-point jump since January and the highest recorded in the five years that the question has been on the survey.
  • C-stores save time and are enhancing safety. Consumer interest in 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 (Penn Schoen Berland). From May 15-18, 2020, it surveyed 1,100 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month. It also used a similar Jan. 24-30 consumer survey of 1,253 U.S. drivers.

See Also

Alexandria, Va.-based NACS has 1,500 retailer and 1,600 supplier member companies from more than 50 countries.

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