ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Convenience-store owners say that in-store sales are steady, but fuel sales continue to lag, according to a new NACS Retailer Member Pulse Survey. They also revealed how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting operations and the delivery of convenience and their relationships with the community, as well as what they think 2021 has in store for them.
NACS Research conducted the Retailer Member Pulse Survey in early October. A total of 72 member companies, representing 1,672 stores, participated in the survey. It conducts quarterly research with retailer members to identify key priorities and opportunities across the convenience and fuel retail landscape.
Here are insights from NACS’s latest survey …
Fuel sales continue to lag, however, as the pandemic continues to affect traditional commuting patterns.
Nearly three in four (74%) retailers said fuel sales were down over the third quarter (July through September), coinciding roughly with summer-drive season. And convenience retailers, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, are not optimistic about fuel sales quickly recovering: 61% said they expect fuel sales to be down the rest of the year, and one in five (20%) said they expect fuel sales to “significantly decrease.”
COVID-19 continues to affect store operations as more convenience retailers embrace new ways to offer convenience during the pandemic:
- 21% have added curbside pickup.
- 21% have added contactless payment.
- 14% are focusing more on drive-thru.
- 14% have added delivery.
Meanwhile, nearly half of all convenience retailers (46%) said they have reduced store operating hours, whether to provide deep cleaning or to manage labor costs.
The coin shortage also affected store operations. Traditionally, about 40% of in-store sales are by cash, but most retailers (59%) said payments by cash have fallen since March. Still, 43% said that the coin shortage affected their operations, with 7% saying it significantly affected operations to the point they had or still have periods where they did not allow customers to pay in cash or receive change in coins.
Convenience retailers contribute more than $1 billion a year to charitable or community groups and continue to support a variety of causes. In addition to corporate donations:
Looking ahead, retailers are focused on several issues, such as keeping employees and customers safe by diligently cleaning, staffing stores and developing new programs to offset the decrease in fuel sales, the survey showed.
“As 2020 comes to a close, we have so many initiative and changes currently in the works to better prepare us for a solid 2021,” said Dennis McCartney, director of operations at Landhope Farms, Kennett Square, Pa. “COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on inside sales this year, but it has also given us the opportunity to take a step back and realize where we need to concentrate our efforts in new product [and] program lines, as well as merchandising and promotional activity to drive traffic.”
Heightened cleaning processes will remain in place and become even more visible to customers as they enter and exit stores, according to the survey. “Our customers have been very vocal—thanking us for being so diligent and deliberate in our cleaning processes and it shows,” McCartney said.