Consumers Consider Cleanliness Paramount in Their Decision to Return to C-stores

Masked checkout

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The increasing number of drivers on the road as businesses begin to reopen could present opportunities for convenience stores, but retailers will need to offer more than a good promo deal.

Nearly eight in 10 consumers (79 percent) said their communities would reopen by June 15, according to a national consumer survey conducted for NACS by PSB Insights. Eighty-four percent of drivers say they will visit c-stores on their journeys; 23 percent say they will shop at c-stores as part of their regular routine; 38 percent say they will shop at c-stores when they need something; and 23 percent say they will only purchase gas at c-stores.

What these consumers have in common is a focus on cleanliness. With gas prices remaining relatively low, they are looking at other in-store offers, and safety and comfort with store operations is paramount, according to NACS. Nearly half of survey respondents (48 percent) say they have a store brand preference, and 37 percent of those who have a preference say cleanliness is a factor that drives that preference.

The c-store community is well positioned to answer the call for cleanliness, as 99 percent of NACS retailer members responding to a member survey said that they enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as frequently as every half-hour.

Other key findings from the consumer survey include:

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

Consumers also care about community engagement, with more than one in three saying that they would be much more likely to shop at a store that actively supports charitable causes, and the more direct the donation, the better. Distributing food (30 percent) and personal protective equipment (18 percent) directly to those in need rated the highest when consumers named the most important donation. Grants and donations to food banks (16 percent) or monetary compensation for hospital workers (11 percent) also gained consumer support.

When businesses are doing charitable work, consumers most want to see it on the local news (69 percent), followed by social media (42 percent) and in-store signage (35 percent).

Additionally, when asked what actions they would take as a result of a store doing charitable work, 39 percent said they would tell others about it; 34 percent said they would donate directly to that charity; and 29 percent would join a fundraiser.

"The great news is that consumers are aware of how our industry serves communities. A record 78 percent 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 reestablish 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."