The C-store Changes That Are Here to Stay

COVID-19 brought more fuel customers into c-stores, especially in times and areas where other food options are few and far between

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed fuel buying behavior, but also buying behavior in convenience stores (c-stores).

Pump-to-store conversion rose two percentage points after COVID-19 response measures went into full-effect in April 2020. Whereas customers across all regions went into the store an average of 11.8% of the time after filling up pre-pandemic, that number increased to 13.8% after the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020.

Figure 1: The percentage of fuel transactions where the customer also transacts in the c-store

What retailers need to know about c-store customers

There are many theories to explain this change in habit, chief among them that people now favor quicker fill-in trips to lengthier, more expensive, runs to a crowded grocery store. 

What’s curious is that even as demand at the pump continues to ebb and flow alongside responses to COVID variants and unprecedented production disruptions, pump-to-store conversion has stayed elevated. 

Not only are customers coming in more often, but they’re spending more in-store.

Figure 2: Average dollars spent on each c-store ticket per month

On average, customers are spending roughly $2.00 more per visit than they were in January 2020 before COVID response measures began in the U.S. 

This trend in average spend per visit is consistent across the U.S.:

  • Rural areas are up $1.82, 
  • Urban areas are up $1.70, 
  • Suburban areas are up $1.93.

Figure 3: Dollars spent on each c-store ticket per month in rural, urban, and suburban area

When and where are people going in-store most?

Considering population density and time of day, pump-to-store conversion is highest when consumers have fewer other retail options available—whether it’s because they are in a rural area, or because they’re driving late when other stores and restaurants are closed. 

Pump-to-store conversion is highest in rural areas and lowest in urban areas.

Figure 4: Pump-to-store conversion rate in rural, urban, and suburban areas

We also see that customers are most likely to go from pump to store between midnight and 5:00 a.m., with the fewest conversions happening mid-morning during the work week.

Figure 5: The hours when pump-to-store conversion is highest (dark green) and lowest (dark red)

These trends of higher visit frequency and higher spend are promising for c-store retailers today, and are telling of where consumer buying behavior is headed. Though seemingly counterintuitive, retailers that are looking to take advantage of these trends today should prioritize driving in-store purchases in off-peak hours, when customers are most likely to stop and shop.

Download our 2021 Trends Report to learn more.