Improvement in C-store Trips Stalls as COVID-19 Impact Continues

ALEXANDIRA, Va. — As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, convenience store sales are at a stand-still.

For the week ended May 31, dollar sales growth narrowed from the prior week, and trips remained about the same, according to the latest weekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.

C-stores are still waiting for in-store trips to fully recover, and improvement appeared to stall in the week ended May 31. Except for the morning daypart, trips remain at roughly 90 percent of the year-ago week total.

Trips in the key 7 a.m. to 9:59 a.m. rush stand at just more than 80 percent of prior year trips as many Americans continue to work from home and are limiting travel, which means fewer visits to gas stations to fill up their tanks and inside visits to c-stores to grab their favorite morning beverage and breakfast, the research revealed.

Counter to most other categories this week, cigarettes and non-alcoholic packaged beverages strengthened, marking the greatest gains in dollars per transaction compared with the year-ago week of all categories: up 4.2 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

Growth year over year in the candy and alcohol categories slowed compared with prior weeks, while snacks and foodservice remained relatively unchanged. Dollars per transaction for candy were up 9.1 percent for the week ended May 31 vs. 10.2 percent for the prior week, while beer gained 20.3 percent vs. 22.5 percent for the prior week.

The general merchandise category continues to perform well as people turn to c-stores for fill-in shopping. Total dollar sales in the category were up 22.1 percent vs. the year-ago week. Likewise, packaged ice cream/novelties, dairy products and alternative snacks all continue to be bright spots.

In comparison, foodservice, food prepared on-site, packaged sweet snacks, commissary and cold/hot/frozen dispensed beverages remain in negative territory in terms of dollar sales, transactions and trips.

PDI and NACS also found that for the week ended May 31:

  • Dollar sales growth declined from the prior week: 3.6 percent vs. 6 percent for the week ended May 24.
  • A key driver of the decline was slowing basket spend. Improvement year over year fell from the prior week: 19.7 percent vs. 22.6 percent for the week ended May 24.
  • Amid the continued decline in high-spend store services like money orders, which peak at the beginning of each month, store services were up just 3.7 percent year over year vs. a 22.5 percent increase for the week ended May 24.
  • Trips remained about the same as the prior week: 13.4 percent vs. 13.5 percent for the week ended May 24.

Powered by PDI Insights Cloud, the PDI and NACS report provides consumer trip and basket-level data and analysis from 5,500 mid- to large-size convenience retail sites across all key geographic locations. The full report is available here.