NACS survey finds the coronavirus crisis is changing customer preferences for more take-home, bulk items.
Convenience retailers say they have seen an increase in sales of
grocery staples as customers increasingly turn to their local
convenience store for pantry items.
More than half of all retailers (52%) say their grocery sales have
increased, according to a national survey of U.S. convenience store
owners conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the
convenience and fuel retailing industry.
Convenience stores traditionally sell immediate consumption items—83%
of all products sold at a store are consumed within an hour—but they
have pivoted to providing items that can be brought home: 52% say they
are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31% are emphasizing
ready-to-heat meals and 28% are showcasing multi-pack/bulk items.
At the same time, convenience stores have dramatically scaled back
self-serve foodservice and restaurant functions: 66% say they have
closed public seating and dining areas and 45% have removed customer
access to self-serve foodservice such as coffee, fountain drinks, bakery
items and roller grill. It is important to note that these percentages
reflect retailers who have made changes; many operators do not have
dining areas, for instance.
Even with the significant shift in products sold, nearly half (46%)
of convenience retailers say their current distribution system is
working. Another one in five (18%) say the system is sufficient, but
they are supplementing it with other deliveries.
New programs offer convenience, sanitizing
Retailers also are looking at new programs to allow social distancing
and to enhance convenience: 14% are offering some sort of curbside
pickup program, 13% have increased a focus on drive-thru and 11% have
added or increased delivery options.
Convenience stores, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the
United States, have ramped up the frequency of cleaning and sanitation
practices inside the store and at the pump. Nearly one in three (31%)
retailers are providing hand sanitizer at the pump and 20% provide
gloves. Overall, 99% of retailers surveyed say they have enhanced their
cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning
conducted as often as every 30 minutes.
Nearly two in three retailers (60%) say they have reduced store
operating hours, due to less customer traffic or to deep clean and
restock during overnight hours. “We are here for the public and their
needs. We are taking every precaution to conduct business safely,” noted
one survey respondent.
Convenience retailers also are supporting medical/healthcare
personnel and first responders: Nearly half (49%) of survey respondents
are supporting these heroes in their communities by offering free
beverages and steep discounts on food, delivering free meals to local
hospitals and firehouses, providing free fuel for critical community
groups that provide school lunch deliveries, donating product to food
banks and other programs, and supplying masks and other supplies to
emergency and healthcare professionals.
“We have always supported first responders with coffee and the like
to help them through their shifts,” said Douglas Dean with 76/Circle K
Retailers also stressed the importance of their teams serving
customers. Nearly one in three (32%) said that employee conversations,
no matter how brief, were the most effective means of communications to
tell people about their pandemic response activities.
“It’s critical that we let our employees know we appreciate the fact
they helped us hold our company together,” said Kim Robello with Minit
Stop Markets (Kahului, Hawaii).
Summing up the current operating climate, Dennis McCartney with
Landhope Farms (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania) noted, “The emphasis on
cross-contamination and customer safety is something that has been
highlighted over and over during this crisis and something that will
continue long after this is over. We are vowing not to relax these
‘cleaning and sanitizing processes on steroids’ and will continue to
magnify their importance to our associates and our customers.”
The NACS Retailer Member survey was fielded in late March and closed April 1. A total of 105 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,828 stores, participated in the survey.
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