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Outlook Survey 2018: Is There a Better Way?

With the tailwind of a strong economy, c-store retailers ponder a long-term strategy

CHICAGO -- What is the future of the convenience-store industry: excellent, good, fair or poor?

Answering this question depends on whether you’re talking about the short-term or the long-term future. In CSP’s 12th annual Outlook Survey of c-store retailers, 63% considered current business conditions to be “good.” And 70% expect business conditions to improve in 2019.

And yet, less than one-fifth of c-store retailers considered business conditions “excellent.” One reason is that double-edged sword for businesses in a strong economy: low unemployment. The national unemployment rate was below 4% in August 2018, an 18-year low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tight labor market was chosen overwhelmingly as retailers’ top challenge they face today and expect to deal with in 2019.

Which issue or trend will most affect the c-store channel in the long-term future?

Source: CSP 2018 Outlook Survey

But beyond the traditional business stresses, c-store retailers are growing increasingly nervous about a 21st century competitor: Amazon. The growth of e-commerce was chosen by most operators as the biggest issue that will affect c-stores in the long term—ahead of a growing foodservice offer, electric vehicles (EVs) and marijuana legalization. At the time of the survey, Amazon had just opened its second Amazon Go cashierless c-store; reports have said 3,000 more are to come.

For c-store retailers, it’s a time of short-term plenty that may at any time give way to new rules of success. Do they stick with the tried and true, or consider a different path toward growth, whether it’s cashierless payment, on-demand delivery or EV charging? As one retailer put the state of affairs, “The economy is strong, but the disruption and challenges are constant.”

Which issue or trend will least affect the c-store channel in the long-term future?

Source: CSP 2018 Outlook Survey

The following reports provide a look at c-store retailers’ economic sentiment, plans and perceived roadblocks. They also supply a glimpse of c-store suppliers’ expectations, including which retail channel they think is most deft in surfing this disruptive period. And we check in with consumers, the ultimate decider of who will win their future business.

Next: Retailers Reach an Economic Stalemate

Click here to read the complete Outlook Survey report.

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