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English Español NACS: Convenience store sales a mixed bag so far in 2020

Convenience store sales remain strong but fuel is still down. Many retailers are introducing changes to adapt their businesses.

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Convenience retailers say that in-store sales are steady, but fuel sales continue to lag, according to the results of a new NACS survey of U.S. convenience store owners.

Most retailers responding to the survey (58%) said that in-store sales through the first nine months of 2020 were higher than the same period a year ago. And, even more promising, 64% said in-store sales were up in September compared with last year. However, fuel sales continue to lag as COVID-19 continues to affect traditional commuting patterns.

Nearly three in four (74%) retailers said fuel sales were down over the third quarter (July through September), which roughly coincided with the summer drive season. And convenience retailers, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, are not optimistic about fuel sales quickly recovering: 61% expect fuel sales to be down the rest of the year, and 1 in 5 (20%) expect fuel sales to “significantly decrease.”

COVID-19’s effect on operations

COVID-19 continues to affect store operations as more convenience retailers embrace new ways to offer convenience during the pandemic:

  • 21% have added curbside pickup
  • 21% have added contactless payment
  • 14% are focusing more on drive-thru
  • 14% have added delivery

Meanwhile, nearly half of all retailers (46%) surveyed said they have reduced store operating hours, whether to provide deep cleaning or manage labour hours.

The coin shortage also affected store operations. Traditionally, about 40% of in-store sales are by cash, but most retailers (59%) said payments by cash have fallen since March. Still, 43% said the coin shortage affected their operations, with 7% saying it significantly affected operations to the point they had or still have periods where they did not allow customers to pay in cash or receive change in coins.

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