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Outlook Survey 2020: Pandemic Pain

Coronavirus and its resulting restrictions remain the convenience stores’ top hurdle

CHICAGO — The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on all manners of retail over the past eight months, and c-stores have not been immune.

In fact, the illness and its resulting restrictions remain the channel’s top hurdle. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of c-store operators said that COVID-19 safety is one of the top challenges facing their business today—by far the highest of any other option, according to CSP’s 2020 Outlook Survey of retailers. That was followed by the ability to hire and retain necessary workforce (51%), employee turnover (34%) and growing traffic and store visits (27%), all challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Retailers have acted over the past few months to keep their associates and customers as safe as possible. Eighty-seven percent of operators said that they now require customers to wear masks inside their store(s), according to CSP’s survey. Of that 87%, 61% said they’ve mandated masks because it’s required by their state law, while 26% said it’s their own corporate policy. Beyond masks, 86% of retailers said they’ve installed plexiglass barriers at checkout counters.

No matter the effort, improving safety standards is essential to increasing consumer confidence in c-stores down the line, Donna Hood Crecca, principal for CSP sister research firm, Technomic, Chicago, said during Winsight Media’s 2020 Outlook Leadership Community.

“Elevated safety and sanitation measures really are crucial to generating trust and making consumers feel comfortable in patronizing c-stores,” she says.

The pandemic has made retailers feel anxious about their current and future finances as well. Nearly two thirds (64%) of operators said that they are at least somewhat concerned about the financial stability of their businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CSP’s survey. And moving forward, 32% said that they expect the pandemic to have a negative impact on both their sales and traffic during 2021.

“I don’t see any recovery for Russell’s until mid-year 2021—and that’s only if we’re not in a major pandemic,” says Ray Huff, president of HJB Convenience, doing business as Russell’s Express, Lakewood, Colo. “It eats me to no end that the rest of the world is wearing masks and has reopened and [the U.S.] hasn’t. It is absolutely ridiculous.”

Brad Duesler, founder and CEO of c-store equipment manufacturer Food Concepts Inc., Middleton, Wis., emphasized how retailers have an opportunity to make their brand become synonymous with safety.

This is done by following mandates for masks, in-store signage, plexiglass barriers and other precautionary measures, he said during Winsight Media’s 2020 Outlook Leadership Community.

“The iconic poster child for the pandemic is face masks, and branded face masks convey a strong message of safety,” he said as an example. “It shows your brand is committed to best practices.”

COVID-19 safety is a dark cloud that looms over every industry—not just c-stores. When that cloud will fade remains to be seen.

“I don’t expect a full [U.S.] recovery probably until two years out,” Huff says. “My outlook is negative for the next year, year and a half. But when it does start to come back, I do not know what that recovery will look like.”

What are the top challenges facing your business today?

How do you expect the COVID-19 pandemic to affect your sales and traffic in 2021?

Source: CSP’s 2020 Outlook Survey | Numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding.

More: Labor Aches 

CSP’s 2020 Outlook Survey conducted between Sept. 9-23 and fielded 74 responses from CSP readers. Click here to visit report landing page.

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