More Visits Help C-Store Channel End 2012 on Positive Note

Smaller chains had strongest growth in traffic, says NPD

HOUSTON -- Visits to convenience stores increased by 4.6% in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to same quarter year ago, reflecting positive movement in some key economic indicators and lower gasoline prices in the last quarter of the year, according to The NPD Group.

NPD's c-store research reports that the increase in traffic was attributed to an increase in average monthly visits, which grew 3.7% over last year as c-store shoppers made an average of 6.2 visits in a 30-day period.

Traffic gains were spread among all type of c-stores, according to NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of more than 51,000 c-store shoppers in the United States. Traditional c-stores increased 0.7 percentage points, major oil chains garnered a 3.2% growth and small/other chains had the strongest growth in traffic at 11.5 percentage points compared to the last quarter of 2011. The afternoon daypart, between 2:00 and 6:00 p.m., continues to be the most popular daypart, with slightly more than 35% of c-store shoppers visiting then, a 1.7 percentage point growth over same quarter year ago.

In addition, the afternoon daypart realized a nearly 10-percentage-point growth in traffic in the quarter. There was a slight decline in moderate and heavy c-store shoppers in the quarter, meaning the channel grew light shoppers, who make one to three visits in a 30-day period.

The amount consumers spent on products per visit in fourth-quarter 2012 increased by 31 cents over the last calendar quarter of 2011. NPD attributed this increase to a combination of inflation and changes in the mix of products as the average number of items consumers purchased has remained steady throughout 2012 at 3.4 items per visit.

More than half, 58%, of c-store shoppers purchased a nonalcoholic beverage in the quarter; with about a third of consumers buying can or bottled beverages and 14.2% choosing dispensed beverages. Alcoholic beverages, cigarettes/tobacco and fresh food had the strongest category growth over last year while lottery tickets and newspaper, magazines and books had the largest year-over-year decline.

"Although the c-store channel outlook is positive for 2013, it remains to be seen if this continues and carries on through the coming year," said David Portalatin, NPD c-store industry analyst. "2013 is starting out a bit challenging for consumers with the realization of the imposed payroll tax increase, severe weather and rising gasoline prices all providing added stress, but we'll see how the remainder of the year shakes out."

The NPD Group provides global information and advisory services, covering the automotive, beauty, entertainment, fashion, food, foodservice, home, office supplies, sports, technology, toy, video game and wireless sectors.