Convenience retailers say they are continuing to enhance store operations to address new consumer preferences related to safety protocols and convenient shopping options that have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic.
Nine in 10 stores (89 percent) have installed plexiglass barriers at checkout, and 87 percent provide hand sanitizer inside the store. Convenience stores sell an estimated 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the country, and 24 percent of stores are offering hand sanitizer at the fuel island, according to a national survey of U.S. convenience store owners conducted by NACS.
“Customers really appreciate observing our associates cleaning, continually wiping down high-touch points in the store and keeping our fueling dispensers clean and in tip-top shape. I think the pandemic has really made it necessary for convenience stores to enhance a ‘culture of cleanliness’ throughout the property, both inside and at the pump,” said Dennis McCartney, director of operations at Landhope Farms (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania). “This will continue to be an important issue and an important continuing aspect to our everyday business.”
Retailers are also anticipating even more change. Rainbo Oil Co. (dba Kwik Stop) is focusing on safety and protecting employees by ensuring adequate supply of PPEs and disinfecting/cleaning supplies throughout the pandemic, according to Lori Thielen with the Dubuque, Iowa-based company.
New programs emphasize convenience
Retailers recognize that as essential businesses, they play an important role in serving local communities. Overall, 98 percent of respondents say their stores have remained open: 64 percent of stores have kept the same hours, and 34 percent have stayed open but with reduced hours.
Many retailers also say they are driving forward new convenience offers that respond to customer demands, such as new payment options that have accelerated within the industry: 40 percent say they have introduced or increased contactless payment options inside stores, and 62 percent say fewer customers are paying by cash, reflecting a broader retail trend. In terms of product pickup, 33 percent of stores have introduced or expanded curbside pickup, 29 percent have increased a drive-thru element to their operations and 21 percent increased delivery.
Retailers say they are embracing these new conveniences. Marshall Dujka, owner of Timewise Food Stores in Houston, Texas, says that he will continue to explore how to better anticipate new customer buying habits and behaviors.
Meanwhile, High’s is expanding its frictionless payment program, as well as curbside pick-up and delivery options, according to Brad Chivington, SVP of the Baltimore, Maryland-based company.
In addition to serving customers, retailers are supporting their communities. Nearly two in three retailers (63 percent) say they are supporting medical/healthcare personnel, first responders or others affected by the crisis. Other companies are recognizing local heroes during the industry-wide 24/7 Day (July 24) that honors first responders, medical personnel and American Red Cross volunteers.
“We’re looking forward to bringing the community back together,” said Edwin Piper, general manager at Willits General Store in Basalt, Colorado.
The NACS Retailer Member survey was fielded in late June and closed July 2. A total of 77 member companies, representing a cumulative 2,796 stores, participated in the survey.
NACS advances the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 152,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, serves 165 million customers daily – half of the U.S. population – and has sales that are 11 percent of total U.S. retail and foodservice sales. NACS has 1,900 retailer and 1,800 supplier members from more than 50 countries.
A May study showed cleanliness was customers’ top priority. See story, here.