Convenience retailers say that in-store sales grew in 2020, with twice as many reporting an in-store sales increase than a decrease (59% vs. 30%, respectively) in 2020, according to the results according to a new National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) survey of U.S. convenience store owners.
Convenience stores, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, experienced a decrease in fuel sales and commuter traffic throughout the pandemic. However, retailers adjusted their in-store offers to focus more on more on take-home meals and grab-and-go meal solutions: 49% put more emphasis on pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals, 41% focused more on prepared foodservice meals and 24% focused more on ready-to-heat take-home meals.
Sales figures from the NACS CSX database confirms this post-pandemic sales trend. From April through November 2020 (December data is not yet finalized), ready-to-eat and ready-to-eat meal options both saw double-digit increases compared to the same period in 2019.
Retailers modify sales mix
Retailers also added or extended their offer around more in-demand products: 39% focused more on cleaning/toiletry items and 34% focused more on grocery items. And, because COVID-19 restrictions limited on-premises consumption of alcohol at other establishments, convenience stores focused more on take-home alcohol offers. Overall, 39% of stores put more emphasis on this category, with 58% adding new items.
While convenience stores added or focused on new offers, they also found some traditional items in short supply. More than two in three (69%) say it was difficult to find qualified candidates for jobs, 69% say that cleaning items/toiletries were in short supply, and 59% say that the coin circulation challenges experienced this summer affected their stores. In addition, 48% say they experienced shortages of alcoholic beverages (beer wine, alcohol) and 42% saw shortages of packaged beverages (bottled water, soda, energy drinks, teas).
“We exist in a small community (Arivaca, Ariz.), where the nearest gas and grocery is over 35 miles away. During the pandemic we were able to stay open and (mostly) stocked, and our community was infinitely appreciative of that,” Damon Goodmanson at II Sonz LLC, which operates the Arivaca Mercantile in town.
Changes Expected to Continue in 2021
While 83% of items traditionally purchased at a convenience store are consumed within the hour, often in the car, retailers will continue to build up their take-home and meal offers in 2021. Fifty-eight percent say they will emphasize prepared foodservice meals, 51% will focus more on prepared ready-to-eat meals like salads and sandwiches, and 30% will focus more on ready-to-heat meals.
Similarly, retailers will continue to expand convenient order and payment options: 38% will expand their app-based ordering and payments, 32% will expand mobile ordering…