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10/05/2021

Return of the Morning Customer Has C-store Retailers Bullish on Year-End Sales

Operators are also optimistic about fuel sales and the viability of electric vehicle charging.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Convenience store retailers are seeing strong sales return to pre-pandemic levels, and that is boosting their outlook for the remainder of the year.

According to the latest NACS Retailer Members survey, three in four operators (74 percent) expect year-end in-store sales to be better than 2020 and 67 percent expect in-store sales will top sales in 2019.

Only 11 percent of retailers expect their year-end in-store sales to fall below year-end 2020 sales and 13 percent anticipate sales will be lower than 2019.

Retailers are also optimistic about fuel sales. Sixty-seven percent expect fuel sales to be higher this year than last year, while 16 percent estimate that they will drop vs. 2020 sales.

Opinions are more divided around 2021 fuel sales compared to those in 2019. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said that sales will surpass totals from 2019, while 39 percent expect they will decrease.

The optimism related to 2021 sales is led by the return of the morning customer. The latest NACS Retailer Members survey found that 53 percent of convenience retailers said morning daypart sales increased compared to 2019, and 47 percent said lunch daypart sales increased.

The only time period that did not see a significant increase in sales compared to 2019 were late night hours. Only 24 percent of retailers in the latest survey saw an increase in sales for the late night daypart.

Although convenience store operators are seeing strong sales that have returned to pre-pandemic levels, they are still concerned. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of retailers are concerned about the labor shortage and finding qualified candidates, and 60 percent are concerned about supply chain shortages.

Convenience stores, which sell an estimated 80 percent of the fuels purchased in the country, also are looking at the viability of electric vehicle (EV) charging at their locations as an opportunity, as well as a trepidation:

  • One in four retailers (25 percent) currently have an EV charger in at least one location and 36 percent said they are likely to install chargers within the next two years;
  • Forty-percent of operators do not have enough customers in their market to make EV charging viable; and
  • Twenty-five percent said that installing charging ports is too expensive, while 14 percent said their stores are not in optimal areas where EV owners charge their cars.

The space required to install chargers also was cited as an impediment by several retailers.

"The survey results confirm that our industry’s resilience and ability to pivot has helped carry us through some very difficult times. I am also optimistic about our industry's future — and look forward to finding new solutions at the NACS Show this week in Chicago," said NACS Chairman Kevin Smartt, who is CEO of Texas Born and Kwik Chek, operator of 48 c-stores across Texas and Oklahoma.

The NACS Retailer Survey was conducted in September 2021 by NACS Research. Sixty-one retailer members, representing a cumulative 1,525 stores, participated in the survey.

Alexandria-based NACS is the global trade association dedicated to advancing convenience and fuel retailing. It has more than 1,500 retailer and 1,500 supplier members from more than 50 countries.