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PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- Convenience store visits took a dip at the end of 2013, driven mostly by a tightened grip on consumer spending and a historically soft December, according to The NPD Group.
New research by the Port Washington, N.Y.-based firm indicates that traffic volumes for conventional c-stores were down 3 percent in the quarter compared to the same period in 2012. This decline came despite favorable gas prices and improved consumer confidence.
Visits to traditional c-store chains and major oil chains remained stable, but steady traffic at these two channels was not enough to offset the declines at small/other chains, where visits were down 8.7 percent, and conventional chains, which saw traffic decline by 2.7 percent, according to NPD's Convenience Store Monitor. The database continually tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 c-store shoppers in the United States.
Those consumers who visited c-stores in the last quarter of 2013 made an average of six visits per person in a 30-day period, which was on par with the same year-ago quarter.
Visits were down across the board regardless of whether customers were loyal to one convenience store or visited multiple locations, the report noted. Loyal customers decreased their visit share by 1.3 percent compared to the year-ago period, while those who shop at many c-stores reduced their share by 1.6 percent.
There was some good news that came out of the report, though. The core c-store customer segment -- those consumers who visit two to three c-stores in a 30-day period -- increased their visit share by more than 3 percent, and remain the largest group at 51 percent of buyers, according to NPD.
Average product units purchased per visit per buyer was 3.3, which was flat compared to the year-ago period. The average product incidence (percent of customers who bought a specific product) remained somewhat steady for most categories, except for growth categories such as lottery tickets, cigarettes and candy/gum.
"It will remain a challenging and competitive environment in 2014 and retailers will continue to fight for dollars," said April Moffa, NPD's convenience store industry analyst. "C-stores can hold on to their base with the right product mix, selection and quality, all of which are growing reasons why consumers choose the stores they do."