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    Heavy Shoppers Pull Convenience Stores Through Tough Economy

    Frequent and heavy c-store customers account for 40 percent of dollars spent, according to NPD Group.

    HOUSTON, Texas -- Heavy convenience store shoppers are critical to the success of c-stores regardless of the economy, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of more than 49,000 convenience store shoppers in the U.S., reported c-store heavy shoppers make up 8 percent of all c-store consumers, but generate 20 percent of all c-store visits and account for 40 percent of the dollars spent.

    The research firm defines heavy shoppers as those visiting c-stores more than eight times per month and spending $10 or more per visit.

    "There is no doubt that c-stores have been hard hit by consumers holding back on spending," said David Portalatin, industry analyst for NPD's auto unit. "Many consumers have significantly changed their shopping patterns by reducing trips, consolidating purchase occasions, deferring purchases, and are looking for deals and discounts."

    According to a recent Convenience Store Monitor study, two out of three key consumer purchase metrics -- channel penetration and visit frequency -- are in decline. Only average check has increased. However, an NPD analysis of c-store consumers over the years reveals a relationship between heavy c-store shoppers' share of the market and their contribution to total sales -- whether economic times were bad or good overall.

    According to NPD, 45 percent of c-store customers are light shoppers, i.e., visiting the store one to three times per month and 24 percent are moderate shoppers, visiting four to seven times per month. Almost one-third of shoppers visit the c-store eight times or more per month.

    "Developing a solid following of these valuable consumers is a critical foundation for healthy c-store sales in any economy," said Portalatin. "Attracting and retaining heavy shoppers begins by understanding their purchase behaviors, attitudes and demographics."

    For those convenience retailers that already know their heavy shoppers, he advised analyzing their entire customer base to identify other shopper segments. For example, a customer segmentation analysis could reveal that some moderate c-store spenders actually may be heavy patrons of lower price point but high frequency categories such as coffee and fountain beverages. These categories could be viewed as "gateways" to nurture a new, more diverse customer base with a broader reach into the total potential market, said Portalatin.

    "Deeper insights into this kind of behavioral consumer segmentation can help retailers go from good to great by solidifying the heavy shopper foundation while also developing strategies for growth among news segments," he said. "Knowing your consumer segments and building relationships with them is the best way to build business, and, of course, ride economic storms."

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