ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As customers increasingly turn to their local convenience store for essential items amid the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers are seeing an increase in sales.
More than half of c-store retailers (52 percent) reported that their grocery sales increased, according to a national survey of U.S. convenience store owners conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the convenience and fuel retailing industry.
C-stores are known for traditionally selling immediate consumption items — 83 percent of all products sold at a store are consumed within an hour — but they have pivoted to providing items that can be brought home. Fifty-two percent of operators said they are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31 percent are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals and 28 percent are showcasing multi-pack/bulk items.
At the same time, c-stores have dramatically scaled back self-service foodservice and restaurant functions. Sixty-six percent have closed public seating and dining areas, while 45 percent removed customer access to self-serve foodservice such as coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grill.
It is important to note that these percentages reflect retailers who have made changes; many operators do not have dining areas, for instance, NACS pointed out.
Even with the significant shift in products sold, nearly half of convenience retailers (46 percent) said their current distribution system is working. Another one in five (18 percent) say the system is sufficient, but they are supplementing it with other deliveries.
C-store retailers are taking the appropriate preventative measures to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19:
- C-store retailers are also looking at new programs to allow social distancing and to enhance convenience. Fourteen percent are offering some sort of curbside pickup program, 13 percent have increased a focus on drive-thru and 11 percent have added or increased delivery options.
- Convenience operators, which sell 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the United Sates, have ramped up the frequency of cleaning at sanitation practices inside the store and at the pump. Nearly one in three (31 percent) are providing hand sanitizer at the pump and 20 percent provide gloves. Overall, 99 percent of retailers surveyed said they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 30 minutes.
- Nearly two in three retailers (60 percent) have reduced store operating hours, due to less customer traffic or to deep clean and restock during overnight hours. "We are here for the public and their needs. We are taking every precaution to conduct business safely," noted one survey respondent.
Convenience retailers also are supporting medical/healthcare personnel and first responders. Just about half of respondents (49 percent) are supporting these heroes in their communities by offering free beverages and discounts on food, delivering free meals to local hospitals and firehouses, providing free fuel for critical community groups that provide school lunch deliveries, donating product to food banks and other programs, and supplying masks and other supplies to emergency and healthcare professionals.
Retailers also stressed the importance of their teams serving customers. Nearly one in three (32 percent) said that employee conversations, no matter however brief, were the most effective means of communications to tell people about their pandemic response activities.
"It's critical that we let our employees know we appreciate the fact they helped us hold our company together," said Kim Robello with Minit Stop Markets, based in Kahului, Hawaii.
The NACS Retailer Member survey was fielded in late March and closed April 1. A total of 105 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,828 stores, participated in the survey.
Based in Alexandria, NACS represents more than 153,000 stores nationwide. It has 1,900 retailer and 1,800 supplier members from more than 50 countries.