Convenience Stores See Sales Tick Up Even as Traffic Remains Depressed

Breakfast items, alternative snacks and candy are among the purchases on the rise.
C-store shoppers

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Convenience stores saw the average number of weekly in-store buyers decline 14 percent in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic weekly average in 2019, despite a modest recovery relative to 2020, according to research conducted by VideoMining. Major factors that had a negative impact on in-store traffic included continuing work-from-home trends and high gas prices.

Despite the lower level of in-store traffic, average weekly sales per store for the convenience channel were up 4 percent compared to 2019, according to VideoMining's C-Store Shopper Insights Tracker. This is partially a result of inflation and partially due to c-store shoppers' healthy appetite for buying a range of -instore products, adding up to $58,456 in sales per store per week, excluding fuel.

Shoppers are now very comfortable visiting and shopping at convenience stores based on their overall behaviors, such as spending more time (over three minutes) shopping in-store, VideoMining reported.

Observed shifts in behaviors and trip missions in the convenience store channel include the breakfast daypart gaining significant share of trips in 2021 compared to the previous year. This is largely due to more of the workforce starting to return to the office and resuming their morning commutes. This was particularly beneficial to product segments such as coffee, energy drinks and prepackaged food, which all performed exceptionally well in the morning daypart.

Shares for the foodservice and beverage categories were up year-over-year while tobacco and alcohol trip missions were down, according to the C-Store Shopper Insights Tracker. Key growth categories included refreshing beverages such as sports drinks (+24 percent share) and water (+13 percent); snack options such as cereal bars (+15 percent), meat snacks (+12 percent) and candy (+9 percent); as well as fresh food options such as roller grill (+13 percent) and prepackaged food (+6 percent).

Gains in these segments reduced the dominance of those that held up through the pandemic, including cigarettes (-7 percent) and beer (-6 percent.)

As fuel prices continue to rise, in turn affecting overall store traffic, the good news for operators is that a majority (72 percent) of visitors to c-stores in 2021 were non-fuel buyers.

The conversion rates trend for 2021 highlight specific opportunities in the convenience channel, especially for improving pump-to-store conversion rates for fuel buyers who pay at the pump, which was nearly 26 percent below the conversion rates in 2019, VideoMining found. Other opportunities to improve in-store conversions abound, especially as shopper dynamics of the channel continue to shift. Last year saw further gains in the proportion of younger shoppers in c-stores, with members of Generation Z and millennials now making up more than 53 percent of the shopper base.

In-depth analysis of product segments also revealed patterns that indicate shifts in shopper preferences, such as moving from traditional beers to hard seltzers and ready-to-drink cocktails. As such, even as store heat maps continue to turn more red after the pandemic-driven blues, there are plenty of opportunities to fine-tune merchandising and marketing strategies to connect better with today's c-store shopper and boost in-store performance.

State College-based VideoMining helps retailers and consumer packaged goods companies optimize retail performance and experience by decoding in-store behavior.