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HOUSTON -- Convenience stores saw increased traffic as 2012 drew to a close, with the number of c-store visits increasing by 4.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
According to The NPD Group, positive movement in some key economic indicators and lower gas prices helped drive the visits. In addition, the firm's convenience store research found that the uptick in traffic was attributed to an increase in average monthly visits, which rose by 3.7 percent over 2011. Specifically, c-store shoppers made an average of 6.2 visits in a 30-day period.
All types of convenience stores saw increased traffic, according to NPD's "Convenience Store Monitor." Traditional c-store [traffic] increased 0.7 percentage points, major oil chains saw a 3.2-percent growth, and small/other chains had the strongest growth in traffic at 11.5 percentage points compared to the last quarter 2011. The afternoon daypart, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., continued to be the most popular with a little more than 35 percent of shoppers visiting then, a 1.7 percentage point growth over the same quarter year ago. In addition, the afternoon daypart realized a nearly 10-percentage point growth in traffic in the quarter, according to the report.
There was a slight decline in moderate and heavy c-store shoppers in the quarter, meaning the channel saw more light shoppers, who make one to three visits in a 30-day period, it added.
In addition to an increase in visits, the amount consumers spent on products per visit in the fourth quarter of 2012 also rose -- increasing by 31 cents compared to the last calendar quarter of 2011. This increase may be attributed to a combination of inflation and changes in the mix of products as the average number of items consumers purchased has remained steady throughout 2012 at 3.4 items per visit.
Taking a closer look at the basket, 58 percent of c-store shoppers purchased a non-alcoholic beverage in the quarter, with about a third of consumers buying can or bottled beverages and 14.2 percent choosing dispensed beverages. Alcoholic beverages, cigarettes/tobacco and fresh food had the strongest category growth versus last year, while lottery tickets and newspaper, magazines and books had the largest year-over-year decline, according to NPD.
"Although the c-store channel outlook is positive for 2013, it remains to be seen if this continues and carries on through the coming year," said David Portalatin, NPD c-store industry analyst. "2013 is starting out a bit challenging for consumers with the realization of the imposed payroll tax increase, severe weather, and rising gasoline prices all providing added stress, but we'll see how the remainder of the year shakes out."