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U.S. C-Store Sales in 2021 Could Top Pre-Pandemic Levels

Retailers are optimistic about sales at year-end, but concerns persist around labor and product shortages, says NACS
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Convenience-store retailers are bullish about their sales for 2021: Three in four convenience retailers (74%) expect year-end in-store sales to be better than 2020 and 67% expect in-store sales will top 2019 sales, according to a NACS retailer member survey conducted in September 2021.

Only 11% of retailers expect their year-end in-store sales to fall below year-end 2020 sales and 13% say sales will be lower than 2019.

Retailers are also optimistic about fuels sales: 67% say they will be higher in 2021 than in 2020, while 16% estimate that they will drop, compared to 2020 sales. Opinions are more divided around 2021 fuels sales compared to those in 2019: 36% say that sales will surpass totals from 2019 while 39% say they will decrease.

The optimism related to 2021 sales is led by the return of the morning customer: 53% of retailers say morning daypart sales increased compared to 2019 and 47% say lunch daypart sales increased. The only time period that did not see a significant increase in sales in compared to 2019 were late night hours; only 24% of retailers say they saw an increase in sales.

While retailers are seeing strong sales that have returned to pre-pandemic levels, concerns remain: 75% of retailers are concerned about the labor shortage and finding qualified candidates and 60% are concerned about supply chain shortages.

C-stores, which sell an estimated 80% of the fuels purchased in the country, also are looking at the viability of electric vehicle (EV) charging at their locations. One in four (25%) retailers say they currently have an EV charger in at least one location and 36% say they are likely to install chargers within the next two years Concerns remain about demand, however: 40% of retailers say there are not enough customers in their market to make EV charging viable, 25% say that installing charging ports is too expensive and 14% say their stores are not in optimal areas where EV owners charge their cars. Several retailers also cited the space required to install chargers as an impediment.

“The survey results confirm that our industry’s resilience and ability to pivot has helped carry us through some very difficult times. I am also optimistic about our industry’s future,” said NACS Chairman Kevin Smartt, who operates 48 Texas Born and Kwik Chek stores across Texas and Oklahoma.

NACS Research conducted the NACS Retailer Survey in September 2021. Overall, 61 retailer members, representing a total of 1,525 stores, participated in the survey. NACS Research conducts quarterly custom research with retailer members to identify key priorities and opportunities across the convenience and fuel retailing landscape.

Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va.-based NACS is a global trade association representing more than 1,500 retailer and 1,500 supplier members from more than 50 countries, It is dedicated to advancing convenience and fuel retailing and advances the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 150,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 165 million customers daily and had sales of $548 billion in 2020.

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