Convenience Store Traffic Takes a Hit

CHICAGO – Poor weather and rising gas prices caused convenience store visits to decline during the first quarter of 2014, according to new data from The NPD Group. Traffic to c-stores dropped 3.5 percent during the first three months of the year compared to the same timeframe last year.

On the flip side, those who did visit c-stores in the winter purchased 1.4 percent more products and fuel than during 2013's first quarter.

NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 U.S. c-store shoppers, also found that loyalty was a benefactor of the severe winter weather, which discouraged consumers from making multiple stops. Q1 2014 showed a 2.2-percent increase in the number of consumers who said they typically visit one convenience store, while multi-chain user visits declined by 2.6 percent.

Further showing the importance of loyalty, 9 percent of consumers reported choosing c-store chains because of rewards or a loyalty program, a 2-percent increase from one year ago, according to NPD.

The importance of product selection and quality was also apparent during the early months of the year, as data shows a 3.4-percent increase in consumers choosing a c-store chain based on its product selection and a 1.6-percent increase in selecting a chain based on its product quality. There was also a 2.4-percent increase in the number of consumers who listed food prepared on-site as a reason to visit a specific c-store chain.

"Aside from the adverse effects of the weather on traffic, the first quarter shed light on the continuing importance of loyalty, product selection and quality, and foodservice to convenience store consumers," stated April Moffa, NPD's convenience store industry analyst. "Time will tell in the quarters ahead whether or not visits will improve."