Beyond price, the barriers for c-store usage vary by market type. More than one-quarter (26%) of urban consumers never visit c-stores because of poor overall value. A lack of healthy options keeps 21% of suburban consumers away. And 27% of rural consumers never shop in c-stores because they don’t have one nearby.
More than half (55%) of urban consumers said they visit c-stores at least once a week, outpacing rural (50%) and suburban (46%) customers, according to Technomic. Urban markets gain more traction than rural and suburban locations because they serve pedestrian consumers with limited time in a compact space, says Donna Hood Crecca, principal with Technomic. These customers are often looking to travel light and are seeking quick, portable items more than rural and suburban consumers are.
“Urban residents may have less access [than rural or suburban residents] to large-format retail outlets like grocery stores and are accustomed to the ‘mini-market’ type of store,” she says. “In addition, they often live in smaller footprints than those in suburban or rural markets, creating a need for smaller package sizes for everything from milk to batteries.”
But despite the more frequent visits by urban consumers, rural consumers are the most consistent c-store visitors. Sixty-four percent of rural consumers said they’re visiting c-stores about the same as they were two years ago, far more than suburban (54%) and urban (44%) customers. Meanwhile, the share of rural customers who are visiting c-stores less often is only 15%, compared to 18% of urban customers and 20% of suburban consumers, according to Technomic.
Compared to two years ago, are you visiting convenience stores more often, less often or about the same amount?
More urban consumers are visiting c-stores today than they were two years ago, vs. suburban and rural customers.
Rurals Are Regulars
Rural customers are the bread and butter of Nimocks Oil, Forrest City, Ark., which operates 11 Circle N Exxon Markets in Arkansas. Eighty percent of the chain’s customer base is rural, while 20% is urban—Forrest City is sandwiched between Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock, Ark.—says Mallory Nimocks, president of Nimocks Oil. Two of the company’s 11 stores are on Interstate 40 and attract urban customers who are often traveling. But local neighbors are the most frequent visitors, Nimocks says.
“In our community, customers come more than once a day,” he says. “Lots will even come in three times a day: They’ll get their morning coffee and breakfast sandwich, eat some [chicken] gizzards and a soda pop and chips for lunch, and buy a six-pack of beer on the way home at night.”
According to Technomic, 24% of urban consumers, 19% of suburban customers and 15% of rural patrons say cleaner c-stores would incline them to visit more often. While rural consumers may prioritize cleanliness less than other market types, Nimocks says his customers are quite the opposite, because having clean restrooms has helped increase visits to his stores.
“There’s no better compliment than when a customer uses your restroom and doesn’t even buy anything,” Nimocks says. “We like to be known as a restroom stop.”