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HOUSTON -- Convenience stores across the United States saw total consumer traffic dip in the third quarter of 2012 compared to the same time period last year. The 2.1-percent decline in July, August and September was mostly driven by lower purchase frequency (5.9 visits per 30 days), but was also influenced by a slight decline in the overall reach of the channel (only 50.2 percent of consumers aged 16 years and older), according to a new report by The NPD Group.
Major oil company-branded c-store chains saw the biggest drop -- especially those retailers who are more dependent on gasoline. Small, independent chains did slightly better, according to NPD's "Convenience Store Monitor." The report tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of more than 51,000 convenience store shoppers in the country.
The average purchase total in the third quarter increased 2.5 percent. However, this increase was likely due to a combination of higher prices, larger sizes or changes in mix and not more items in the basket, the report said.
"The third quarter weakness in c-store traffic compared to a year ago can likely be attributed to rising gasoline prices in the quarter and ongoing pressures from competitive channels such as grocery, drug, dollar and mass that are encroaching on the convenience shopping occasion," says David Portalatin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD's convenience store research. "In September gas prices nationally approached the $4 mark, which historically leads to diminishing share of wallet for in store purchases."