What Factors Helped Offset Declining C-Store Visits?

Weather, rising gas prices to blame for drop in traffic, but there was a silver lining

Gas Station in the rain (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

CHICAGO -- The weather and rising gasoline prices are to blame for the decline in visits to convenience stores in first-quarter 2014, according to The NPD Group. Traffic to convenience stores decreased by 3.5% in the first three months of the year compared to same period last year, reports NPD's convenience store research.

Loyalty, however, was a benefactor of the severe winter weather, which discouraged consumers from making multiple stops, and improved c-store product selection also help offset those declines.

The good news is that those who did visit convenience stores in the winter purchased slightly more (1.4 percentage points) fuel and products than in the same quarter last year, found NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 convenience store shoppers in the United States.

First-quarter 2014 showed a 2.2 percentage point increase in consumers stating they typically visit one convenience store whereas multi-chain user visits declined by 2.6 percentage points. To further show the importance of loyalty, 9% of consumers, 2 percentage points more than same quarter last year, chose convenience store chains because of a rewards or loyalty program.

In addition to building customer loyalty, the importance of product selection and quality was apparent in the early months of the year, said NPD. There was a 3.4 percentage point increase in consumers choosing a convenience store chain based on its product selection, and a 1.6 percentage point increase in selecting a chain based on its product quality. Food prepared on site also had gains (2.4 percentage points) as a reason to visit a specific convenience store chain.

"Aside from the adverse effects of the weather on traffic, the first quarter shed light on the continuing importance of loyalty, product selection, quality and foodservice to convenience store consumers," said April Moffa, NPD c-store industry analyst. "Time will tell in the quarters ahead whether or not visits will improve."

The NPD Group, Chicago, provides global information and advisory services covering the automotive, beauty, consumer electronics, entertainment, fashion, food and foodservice, home, luxury, mobile, office supply, sports, technology, toy and video game sectors.