Visits to Convenience Stores Decline in Last Quarter of 2013

Gas prices remain stable as traffic volume dips.

A tightened grip on consumer spending and a historically soft December contributed to a decline in convenience store (c-store) visits in the fourth calendar quarter of 2013, reported The NPD Group, a global information company. 

In spite of favorable gas prices and improved consumer confidence, traffic volumes for conventional c-stores were down 3% in the quarter compared to the same period in 2012, according to NPD convenience store market research.

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Visits to traditional c-store chains and major oil chains remained stable, but steady traffic at these two channels was not enough to offset the declines at small/other chains where visits were down 8.7%, and conventional chains, which saw traffic decline by 2.7%, according to NPD’s Convenience Store Monitor, which continually tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 convenience store shoppers in the U.S.  Those consumers who visited c-stores in the last quarter of 2013 made an average of six visits per person in a 30-day period, which is on par with the same quarter year ago.

Both loyal-to-one-c-store customers and those who visit multiple c-stores cut down on their visits in the fourth quarter of 2013, reported NPD.  Loyal consumers decreased their visit share by 1.3% compared to year ago, and those who use many c-stores reduced their share by 1.6%. On the flip side, the c-store customer core segment, those consumers who visit two to three c-stores, increased their visit share by more than 3% in the period, and they remain the largest group at 51% of buyers.

Average product units purchased per visit per buyer were 3.3, which was flat compared to year ago. The average product incidence (percent of customers who bought a specific product) remained somewhat steady for most categories, except for growth categories like lottery tickets, cigarettes, and candy/gum.

“It will remain a challenging and competitive environment in 2014 and retailers will continue to fight for dollars,” said April Moffa, NPD convenience store industry analyst. “C-stores can hold on to their base with the right product mix, selection, and quality, all of which are growing reasons why consumers choose the stores they do.”