BOSTON — The coronavirus pandemic is having serious consequences for consumer visits to convenience stores. But just how much are they hurting foot traffic?
“Convenience retailers are essential businesses during times of crisis, but COVID-19 is bringing consumers to the stores with new questions and concerns,” said Frank Beard, convenience store and retail trends analyst for GasBuddy, in the company’s Consumer Ratings & Foot Traffic Report for first-quarter 2020. “Is it safe to touch the pump handles? When was the last time the store was cleaned and disinfected? According to GasBuddy data, expectations are sky-high.”
Boston-based GasBuddy analyzed more than 10 million consumer c-store visits and 2 million ratings and reviews between Jan. 1 and April 30. For a stop to be considered a “visit,” users had to be within 30 meters of a fuel pump for two to 30 minutes.
Click through for insights on GasBuddy’s report showing the effect of COVID-19 on consumer sentiment and behavior ...
Total gas-station visits increasingly dropped as COVID-19 spread in the U.S. in March and April. Overall visits bottomed out between March 26 and April 1 with a 17.75% drop below GasBuddy’s index, according to the report. From April 23 to 29, visits were 5.15% higher than the index—likely the result of relaxed restrictions in many states, GasBuddy said.
Morning visits were hit the hardest because consumers stopped commuting during the pandemic, while afternoon visits increased during this time. Sundays and Thursdays saw the largest dip in visits since the start of the pandemic.
When it came to overall visits during the first quarter, Pilot Co., Knoxville, Tenn., and Sheetz, Altoona, Pa., each captured the highest average foot traffic in five states—more than any other brand, according to the report. Cumberland Farms, Westborough, Mass., claimed the highest foot traffic in four states, while Circle K, Laval, Quebec, and Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis., each captured three states.
Brands with a minimum of 20 locations per state were considered for this section of the report.
Clean stores drive visits
Cleanliness was the most important factor in consumer c-store visits during this year’s first quarter because of the pandemic, and chains with clean stores benefited mightily. C-stores with above-average cleanliness ratings drove 17.23% more visits than their below-average counterparts, according to the report.
“Today’s customers have many choices, and nobody has to choose dirty or otherwise unexceptional retailers,” GasBuddy said. “GasBuddy ratings and footfall correlations consistently show that consumers gravitate toward stations with a higher-quality customer experience.”
Top-rated brands overall
With an average score of 4.81, Lake Jackson, Texas-based Buc-ee’splaced first in GasBuddy’s top-rated brands during this year’s first quarter. The rest of the top five were Twice Daily (4.78), Nashville; Kelley’s Market (4.68), Rockford, Ill.; QuikTrip (4.66), Tulsa, Okla.; and Wawa (4.64), Wawa, Pa.
Both positive and negative c-store ratings increased during March. This increased polarization was likely due to heightened concerns during the pandemic, GasBuddy said. Positive ratings increased their share of total ratings from 63.9% in January to 67.2% in March, while negative ratings increased their share of total ratings from 5.8% in January to 6.7% in March.
Many positive reviews came from c-store efforts to support first responders, while many negative reviews showed frustration over accurate digital listings as hours of operation changed frequently. Cleaning efforts garnered both positive and negative reviews during the first quarter.