COVID-19: Daytime C-Store Sales Have Fully Recovered

The resilient nature of convenience stores continues to hold true, as consumers turn to the channel time and time again. Through adaptation and innovation, both c-store retailers and CPG brands are rising to the challenge of meeting the rapidly changing consumer needs. After diving into specific categories in recent posts, today we take look at overall in-store trends.

If you don’t have the time today to dive deeper, here’s a quick snapshot of the key takeaways:

  • Sales, trips, and basket dollars are all down slightly
  • C-store visits are modestly impacted by COVID-19 new case trends
  • Daytime sales have fully recovered, while other dayparts are slowly improving

In-Store Sales Decline
For the first time since mid-April, we have seen three consecutive weeks of modestly negative sales growth vs. year-ago levels. Trips and baskets are also down slightly. But on a more positive note, when we look at sales on a week-over-week basis, two of the last three weeks have had positive growth. This means that while there hasn’t been a dramatic drop in July sales, we’re not witnessing the seasonal growth in July that we would in a “typical” year.

In-store Trips vs. New COVID-19 Cases Weekly Growth
With the recent rise in new COVID-19 cases, we assessed the correlation of COVID and retailer in-store trips – measuring the growth of each metric on a week-over-week moving average basis.

One might guess that as new cases increase, trips drop. But interestingly enough, the relationship is proving far more nuanced:

  • In the four weeks beginning in mid-March, in-store trips dropped a double-digit percentage basis. This was a result of a few specific hot spots that emerged in the US. And because consumers lacked clear understanding of the disease, they began to severely limit their movement.
  • Trips began growing again in mid-April, while there were only a few thousand cases nationally. For the next 90 days, cases grew steadily while trip growth stayed within a narrow range of 0% to 4%. Consumers returned to c-stores, settling into new patterns.
  • From late June to late July, cases grew more than 100% and retailers saw a net 4% decline in in-store trips, demonstrating a modest inverse correlation.

We can see that COVID-19 certainly was a shock to c-store purchase behavior early in the crisis, but the recent dramatic rise in new cases has had modest impact on trips. Once again, we see that c-store consumer demand has been remarkably resilient.

Daytime Trips Lead Recovery
We noted in an earlier post that trips on certain days of the week are recovering at different rates (check out the post here!). Today we’re diving into daypart sales trends, looking for similar patterns. The first chart illustrates the percent of sales by daypart comparing pre-crisis February. Traditionally, the 6am-2pm daypart is the most meaningful for c-store sales. Unsurprisingly, this period was also the one which experienced the greatest decline early in the crisis. This greatly impacted c-store retailers in sales, trips and gross margin.

Next, we take a look at year-over-year sales growth trends by daypart and month. Here’s what we found:

  • Both the early morning daypart (Midnight-6am) and most important dayparts of the day for retailers and CPG’s (6am to 2pm) grew vs. the prior year in June
  • 2pm to Midnight has recovered at a dramatic rate but continues to lag compared to year-ago levels

While consumer traffic patterns are quite different today, consumers continue to see value in the channel throughout the crisis. We expect continued in-store growth over the remainder of 2020. We will continue to monitor trends, share additional insights, and keep you informed.  

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