Making the Routine Feel Routine to Consumers

By Jeff Lenard

C-store customers want clean bathrooms and hand sanitizer stations, a NACS survey shows.

ALEXANDRIA, VA – As communities enter new stages of re-opening, more drivers will be on the roads, whether commuting to work or visiting reopened businesses – and that could present oppor-tunities for convenience stores.

More than three in four consumers (79 per cent) said their communities would reopen by June 15, according to the results of a recent national consumer survey conducted for NACS by PSB Insights. Overall, 84 per cent of drivers surveyed say they will be visiting convenience stores on their journeys: 23 per cent say they will shop at convenience stores as part of their regular routine, 38 per cent say they will shop at stores when they need something, and an additional 23 per cent say they will only purchase gas at convenience stores, which sell an estimated 80 per cent of the fuel purchased in the United States.

But what will entice them to come inside the store as travel picks up? In short: A focus on cleanliness.

With gas prices still relatively low, consumers are looking to other offers within the store, with safety and comfort with store operations now paramount. Nearly half of customers surveyed (48 per cent) say they have a store brand preference, and 37 per cent of those with a preference say cleanliness is a factor driving that preference.

The good news is that convenience stores were early adopters in addressing protective measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 99 per cent of NACS retailer members responding to a NACS Retailer Member survey said they enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 30 minutes.

Here are some other cleanliness-focused insights from the NACS consumer survey:

  • Cash sales are down. The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21 per cent in January to 14 per cent in May, as many consumers are shying away from handling cash and seeking options that minimize contact.
  • Hand sanitizer access is the top priority for consumers. Consumers rated access to hand sanitizer in-store (68 per cent) and at the fuel pump (67 per cent) as the top two choices when asked which of 11 enhanced safety procedures they thought were appropriate to implement at convenience stores.
  • Bathrooms are top safety concerns. Consumers said bathrooms were the biggest concern for exposure to COVID-19 (54 per cent), followed by concerns contracting the virus from other customers (47 per cent) and from doors and surfaces (47 per cent).

Consumers also weighed in on community engagement. More than one in three consumers said they would be much more likely to shop at a store that was actively supporting charitable causes.

  • The more direct the donation, the better: Distributing food (30 per cent) and personal protective equipment
    (18 per cent) directly to those needing them rated the highest when consumers were asked to name the most important donation – ahead of grants and donations to food banks (16 per cent) or monetary contributions to hospital workers (11 per cent).
  • All news is local: If businesses are doing charitable work, consumers most want to see it on the lo-cal news (69 per cent), far ahead of social media (42 per cent) and in-store signage (35 per cent).
  • Charity is contagious. When asked what actions they would take as a result of a store doing charitable work, 39 per cent said they would tell others about it. And it may also spur a movement: 34 per cent would donate directly to that charity, and 29 per cent would join a fundraiser.

“The great news is that consumers are aware of how our industry serves communities. A record 78 per cent of consumers surveyed said that convenience stores share their values and do business the right way,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

“The findings also show that there are opportunities for convenience retailers to capture sales from consumers increasingly looking to re-establish routines. Those who can address consumer concerns about cleanliness and their communities and build upon that with a compelling offer can find ways to grow their sales over the coming months,” added Lenard.

The national consumer survey was conducted online by PSB Insights; 1,100 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed from May 15-18, 2020. Reference is also made to a similar January 24-30 consumer survey of 1,253 American drivers.

Jeff Lenard, Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS)

Jeff Lenard oversees NACS’ industry-wide external communications campaigns to advance the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 152,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 165 million customers daily—half of the U.S. population.