Recently, PDI and GasBuddy issued their first joint report analyzing how the pandemic has influenced shopping behavior in the $650 billion fuel and convenience industry. The “Buddy Up: C-Store Shopper Insights” report combines GasBuddy consumer survey data from more than 15,000 convenience retail consumers across all key US geographic locations along with PDI consumer buying data from 5,500 mid to large-size convenience retail sites across all key US geographic locations from its Insights Cloud solution.
The inaugural report focused on “The New Pandemic Consumer” utilizes this data to identify changes in C-store shopping habits from 2020 to 2021. Key findings from this quarter’s survey include insights around food delivery, trip and basket data, shopping destinations, and safety protocols.
Stores have opened their doors back up to the public, and the competition to attract shoppers is fiercer than ever. Retailers now face local competition in addition to previously unseen competitors that have entered the delivery space. Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents say they receive up to four food deliveries per week. The looming last-mile disruption the industry has been tracking gained even more momentum during the pandemic, leaving retailers playing a game of catch-up.
Trip and basket data
Major category trends that are consistent between both transactional data and consumer survey data revolve around fuel, alcohol, and snacks. Consumers are evolving to balance both commuter behaviors with stay-at-home trends. As a result, surveyed consumers report a significant increase in their C-store alcohol purchases when staying home more often. With the return of commuting 75% of consumers are shopping for fuel in 2021, up from 68% in 2020.
However, PDI Insights Cloud shows that beer sales are down more than 5% YoY. As seen in the April C-Store Shopper Trends Report, salty snacks sales are down 7% YoY, particularly hitting the categories daypart sweet spot of 3-7pm, where 50% of sales are typically made. Yet, when surveyed in April, consumers reported that more than 20% of their trip drivers are for purchasing snacks. Is this category possibly making a sweet comeback?
The good news is that most shopping destinations are showing increased customer throughput, even if marginal. The number of C-store shoppers has grown over 4% in the past year compared to 5% growth in grocery and 6% in dollar stores. The lines between quick service restaurants, retailers, dollar stores, and hospitality venues continue to blur as these industries redefine what “convenience” means to the consumer.
In 2021, when asked to rank the top influencer of their decision to visit a convenience store or fast-food restaurant, respondents ranked “more frequent cleaning and disinfecting” as the most important influencer followed by a tie between “discounts on food or other essential products” and “employees using gloves and masks.” With 86% of respondents paying close attention to retailers’ commitment to the safety of their employees, those retailers find themselves facing new challenges to overcome.
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