ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Although municipalities nationwide are beginning to lift stay-at-home restrictions, consumers aren't so willing to return to their normal work and travel routines.
According to new research from NACS, 58 percent of consumers say their communities will reopen more non-essential businesses within the next weeks. While reopening is underway, it's mixed on what consumers will do. Approximately 69 percent of Americans say they will delay normal work and travel, while those who expect to commute again said they will, but not fully.
Before the pandemic, 39 percent said they commuted at least five days a week, compared to 37 percent who did not commute. Going forward, 27 percent expect to commute five or more days a week, a 12-point drop. Meanwhile, 43 percent will not commute at all, a 6-point increase.
Overall, two in five adult Americans (38 percent) say they are currently commuting, down from 57 percent who said they were commuting before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means fully one-third of all commuters are off the roads, even after some recent increases.
"The return of more commuters is certainly good news for the convenience store industry, which sells 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the country, and food and beverages that are the staple of rush-hour routines," said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard. "Retailers look forward to providing those everyday essentials and are continuing to enhance operations with a focus on cleanliness and safety."
Other highlights of the NACS consumer survey include:
C-stores are part of commuters' routines.
Only 7 percent of Americans said they purchased items at a convenience store daily during the pandemic — the same percentage that was recorded in January 2020. Forty-five percent have bought something at a c-store in the past week. However, it may take longer to establish routines with commuters: One in four Americans (23 percent) who will commute said they will immediately return to their normal routines at c-stores.
Cash purchases have declined.
The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent as customers shy away from handling cash in the current climate.
Cleanliness is linked with brand preference.
Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) said they have a brand preference for a specific c-store, and the reasons have evolved considerably. Preference based on gas price dipped from 58 percent to 53 percent, while cleanliness was sought by 37 percent.
Consumers view c-stores as essential businesses.
Because of their presence in every community and offer of fuel, food and other essentials, a whopping 88 percent of Americans said c-stores are essential businesses. Consumers also said stores have strong values: 78 percent said that c-stores share their values and do business the right way. This is an 8-point jump since January and the highest recorded in the five years the question has been asked, according to NACS.
C-stores are offering enhanced convenience and safety.
Consumer interest concepts like cashierless check-out, curbside pickup and delivery has grown, and all have attracted more interest over the past four months. Consumers said that time saving is most important, with safety emerging as a second choice. Overall, safety benefits were cited by 41 percent interested in cashierless check-out, 38 percent of those seeking curbside food pickup and 27 percent of those who like food delivery.
The NACS national consumer survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland from May 15-18. It surveyed 1,100 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month. Reference is also made to a similar Jan. 24-30 consumer survey of 1,253 American drivers.
Alexandria-based NACS is the global trade association dedicated to advancing convenience and fuel retailing. It has more than 1,500 retailer and 1,600 supplier member companies from more than 50 countries.