The exterior of a convenience store

Convenience Store Retailers Ride Wave of Optimism Into Q4

a woman buying beverages
More than half of c-store retailers said that beverage sales are the top reason for store traffic.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Following strong sales throughout the year, convenience store retailers are heading into the final quarter of 2019 on a high note.

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), 84 percent of c-store operators are optimistic about their business prospects for the fourth quarter. This is in line with the third quarter sentiment, which was 83 percent.

Looking at the first nine months of the year, nearly three in four retailers said in-store merchandise sales were up. In addition, 52 percent reported higher fuel sales than last year. C-stores sell an estimated 80 percent of fuel purchased in the United States.

On the flip side, only 10 percent of retailers said merchandise sales were down and 17 percent reported a decrease in fuel sales, according to the latest quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey. The survey, which was fielded Sept. 17-23, included responses from 118 companies, representing 2,906 stores.

Fourth quarter sales, retailers pointed out, will be closely linked to two factors that drive customer traffic to stores: the weather and geopolitical events that could affect oil prices.

The survey also found that the morning daypart (approximately 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.) drives the most sales. Specifically, 62 percent of c-store retailers said it's the most importance daypart for merchandise sales and 50 percent said it's the most important time for fuels sales.

Beverages are also key, driving customer traffic inside the c-store. Approximately 57 percent of retailers surveyed said that buying a beverage was the top reason why customers come inside the store, compared to 23 percent for a food purchase and 18 percent to purchase something else.

While retailers expressed strong optimism about their business prospects, they were slightly less bullish about the overall economy and the overall convenience and fuel retailing industry, NACS explained. Overall, 77 percent said they are optimistic about the economy — a slight one-point drop from last quarter —  and 78 percent are optimistic about the industry, a two-point decline.