What Brings Fuel Customers Into Convenience Stores?

Outdoor lighting, packaged sweets important to c-store traffic
Survey data
Photograph: Shutterstock

A convenience store’s outdoor lighting might be more important to attracting shoppers than how clean its bathrooms are, according to new research from PDI Technologies Inc. and GasBuddy.

How well convenience stores perform in key areas could determine how much foot traffic they receive, but gas prices also had an impact last year, according to research PDI released Monday.

When gas prices spiked in June 2022 to an average of $5 a gallon, the number of trips to gas pumps rose 12.4%, but trips to the convenience store fell 2.8%, the research indicated. Convenience-store trips declined every month from March to December in 2022, as prices rose and consumers had less discretionary money to spend due to inflation, according to PDI and GasBuddy’s March 2023 release, Tracking Convenience Report: From the Pump to the C-Store.

The report includes GasBuddy’s consumer survey data from over 15,000 convenience-retail shoppers and PDI’s consumer-buying data from 20,000 convenience retail sites.

“C-stores need to harness the power of data to understand what’s attracting and motivating consumers to their real estate beyond the need for gas, especially as we continue to see increased adoption of automotive technologies like EV (electric vehicles) that rely less on fuel,” said Bethany Allee, senior vice president, marketing at PDI Technologies in Alpharetta, Georgia.

More Options

The insights PDI and GasBuddy highlight in the report can help convenience stores compete with the growing number of options consumers have for quick meals, snacks and beverages. “Shoppers today have a lot of options when it comes to ‘convenient’ choices. It seems that every big box retailer—from apparel to home improvement, electronics, and more—has added a grab-and-go option at checkout,” Allee said.

The factors leading consumers from the gas pump into the c-store range from food items to the stores’ overall appearance. C-stores scoring below-average ratings in overall appearance saw a 6.7% decrease in foot traffic on average,  while those with above-average ratings in overall appearance achieved a 4.8% increase, according to the report. 

C-stores with a below-average rating in outdoor lighting saw an 8.5% drop in foot traffic, while those with above-average lighting achieved a 5.3% increase, the report said.

Stores rated below-average in cleanliness saw visits decline 4.6%, while those with above-average ratings in cleanliness gained 3.4% in foot traffic, according to GasBuddy. Below-average coffee resulted in 3.9% fewer visits, while above-average coffee brought 2.4% more visits. Customer service had similar results with a 4.5% decline in visits for stores with below-average ratings and a 3.0% increase for above-average ratings.

Surprisingly, the condition of restrooms had less effect on foot traffic, with below-average restrooms correlating to 1.3% less foot traffic and above-average ratings resulting in 1% more visits.

Product Purchases

Among 12 product categories, the two achieving the largest dollar-sales gains in 2022 from the prior year were salty snacks, up 13%, and packaged sweets, up 15%, while cigarettes declined 6% and general merchandise fell 4%, the report said.

Loyalty-program members had an average basket spend of $11.17 and a basket size of 2.9 items, compared with an average spend of $8.59 and basket size of 2.2 items for nonloyalty members, according to PDI data.

PDI provides technology solutions to retailers, from enterprise resource planning to loyalty and cyber security applications. PDI acquired GasBuddy in 2021. PDI serves over 200,000 locations with Fuel Rewards program, and GasBuddy, its fuel savings platform provides gas price information on over 150,000 fuel stations. The GasBuddy app has been downloaded over 100 million times, the company said.

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