ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Eighty-four percent of U.S. convenience-store operators said they are optimistic about their business prospects for the fourth quarter of 2019, which would continue a pattern of strong sales throughout the year, according to the latest quarterly retail sentiment survey from NACS.
Retailer optimism in the third quarter was 83%.
Nearly three in four retailers (74%) said in-store merchandise sales were up in the first nine months of 2019. Convenience retailers, which sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, also reported that fuels sales increased: Fifty-two percent said fuel sales were higher than last year. Only 10% of retailers said merchandise sales were down and only 17% reported a decrease in fuel sales.
Fourth-quarter sales will be closely linked to two factors that drive customer traffic to stores: the weather and geopolitical events that could affect oil prices, retailers told NACS.
Retailers said the morning daypart (approximately 6-11 a.m.) drives the most sales: Sixty-two percent said it is the most importance daypart for merchandise sales and 50% said it’s the most important time for fuel sales.
Retailers also said beverages help drive customer traffic inside the store. Most retailers (57%) said buying a beverage was the top reason why customers comes inside the store, compared to 23% for a food purchase and 18% for purchasing something else.
While retailers expressed strong optimism about their business prospects, they were slightly less bullish about the overall economy and the overall convenience and fuel retailing industry. Overall, 77% said they are optimistic about the economy, a 1-point drop from last quarter, and 78% said they are are optimistic about the industry, a 2-point decline.
The U.S. convenience-store industry, with more than 153,000 stores selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 165 million customers daily—half of the U.S. population—and has sales that represent 11% of total U.S. retail and foodservice sales. The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey was fielded Sept. 17-23. The results included responses from 118 companies representing 2,906 convenience stores.
Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va.-based NACS has 1,900 retailer and 1,800 supplier members from more than 50 countries.