The National Advisory Group and Young Executives Organization Spring Leadership Series kicked off May 19 with “How Consumer Behavior Has Changed During COVID,” a presentation from Casey Taylor, vice president of client success for market analyst and consulting firm CivicScience.
Taylor outlined the changes wrought by a year and a half of pandemic lockdowns and safety precautions, and how that has changed purchasing habits – many which will remain long after COVID has passed.
Thanks to the pandemic, the work-at-home trend has entrenched itself as a valid work option, for both employers and workers alike. The pandemic, according to Taylor, has fundamentally altered how we think about the workplace.
Younger employees say that pay cuts are acceptable in exchange for work-from-home opportunities. This makes sense for employers, too. There’s less overhead, making it more affordable. Working from home, predicted Taylor, will become even more prevalent moving forward.
“It will take time,” Taylor said, “but the groundwork is laid already.”
More people working at home will mean fewer people commuting in cars twice a day. C-stores will have to adapt to make up for those morning coffee drinkers brewing at home and making their own breakfasts.
Taylor calls it distancing from car culture. Businesses will need to meet consumers where they are – and that will be at home more often than they were pre-pandemic.
Expect a Big Bump in Travel
One edge c-stores may have in the coming year is in serving the traveling public. After the lockdowns of the past year and restrictions on recreation and travel, more people are ready to get out and do something – even things they normally wouldn’t have done pre-pandemic.
Car travel will have the edge because COVID caution remains, despite relaxed public guidelines. The main fear, Taylor believes, will continue to be shared air, shared breathing space. Travelers will feel safer hopping into an automobile with people they know than expose themselves to dozens of strangers on an airplane and other public modes of transportation.
That will likely mean more people stopping for not only fuel, but beverages, snacks, meals and other incidentals, no matter the distance and time of the trip.
Taylor’s advice to c-store operators? “Capture people within a certain radius who want to get out, have some fun.”
For consumers who won’t be traveling very far, convenience stores can take advantage of a renewed sense of local responsibility. The pandemic threatened the livelihoods of small, local businesses. COVID camaraderie has consumers shopping more at locally owned establishments.
Taylor said that stores should ask themselves how they are perceived in the community. “Position yourself locally or as part of the local economy,” he advised. Consumers are more apt now to notice how individual transactions make a difference at the local level
Nearly 7 in 10 consumers under age 35 are comfortable shopping at stores. That’s a plus for the youth-skewed c-store industry. The caveat? Frequent third-party delivery app use has doubled among younger demographics. “It’s not going to change in any capacity,” Taylor cautioned. “It’s not going away.”
The plus with this trend is that customers who like your foodservice will be able to more easily get it. The problem? Third-party delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash will severely cut into your profits.
Taylor underscored an important reality the pandemic has helped create – customers expect to be served where they are. And more often, that will be at home. Plus, the decline of car culture will mean less demand for c-store fuel – and stores will have to find other products to pick up the slack. It may be time for c-stores to initiate their own delivery plans, whether it be for food or merchandise.
Overall, the future for c-store operators may be bright – IF they adapt to the changing market. That’s something the convenience industry has always been good at.
Session No. 2 of the five-part NAG/YEO Spring Leadership Series will address “The Impact of Delivery and Onlline Sales: How do we reach new food customers?” Featured guests for the May 26, 2:00 p.m., event will be Kalen Frese, food service director with Warrenton Oil; Dyson Williams, director of merchandising and foodservice for Dandy Mini Marts Inc.; and Mike Kostyo, senior managing editor and trendologist with Datassential. Register for the free webcast at the NAG Website Spring Leadership Series page.