Convenience Store
Shopper Insights

As convenience becomes increasingly important in our fast-paced society, this growing channel reveals some unique shopper behaviors.

Convenience stores (c-stores) appeal to a wide portion of the population looking for everything from a simple beverage to a meal. Today, it seems everyone is on the go so convenience stores appeal to a variety of customers in every socio-economic category.

Historically, convenience store shoppers have been 15-24-year-old males however this demographic is shifting as women shop convenience stores for immediate consumption occasions for nearly all the same reasons men do although multitasking/being distracted is a bigger motivator of women than men.

Here are some interesting quick facts about c-store shoppers:

  • According to the latest research, the typical focused c-store shopper is in and out in under four minutes during which time they typically pass 606 individual product category displays, averaging 0.3 seconds per display!
  • 84% of customers who stop for a fill-up say store cleanliness is a factor for going inside for an additional purchase.
  • 45% of fuel customers go in-store to purchase a beverage, 36% to buy a snack.
  • 46% of c-store shoppers purchase only one product during a shopping trip.
  • The c-store customer understands there will be fewer promotions and discounts than in a grocery store, but they also like to be rewarded and feel like they got a good deal.
  • Surprisingly, s­­­hoppers who stop to pick up gas, beer, and jerky only account for about 25% of the market.
  • 55% of shoppers claim to visit a convenience store for a top-up mission, 11% for a meal prep and 17% for food-to-go.
  • Beer accounts for 13% of c-store sales
  • 95% of c-store shopping decisions are made subconsciously

The overall trend in c-stores is towards fresh and healthy prepared food items although this can be difficult to convince consumers of given the junk food association c-stores have. Simply adding fresher, trendier options will go a long way to changing this perception. A few offerings could include bread bought from a local bakery or some artisanal toppings for a sandwich program.

These are the 4 key influencers of c-store shoppers:

  1. Lifestyle

These days, time is scarce and c-stores play an important role in saving time. The on the go, digitally connected younger generation is driving the trend for increased visits to convenience stores. They make frequent trips to smaller stores to get just the food they need for the next couple of days.

  1. Leveraging technology

Cash machines, self-checkouts, contactless and mobile payments encourage shoppers to shop easily and buy little and often. Digital in store screens can be used to communicate key messages to local shoppers. Increased use of AdWords in search, mobile based coupon offers and alerting customers via mobile alert of time sensitive offers all help to improve the c-store experience.

  1. Location

C-store location is one of the top 3 reasons for choosing a convenience store. Ample parking in a good location with accessible transportation links is paramount to take advantage of the important food on-the-go category. This enables time-poor shoppers to quickly stop in on the way home from work for groceries.

  1. Loyalty

Loyalty reward programs have become increasingly important for c-stores. They must leverage this data and create reward experiences that appeal to their customers behaviors and preferences. c-stores have the ability to localize and customize (by affluence, ethnicity, age, brand affinity and more) and then tailor their products to meet and then eventually exceed what they know of their customers expectations. They must try get away from the “one size fits all” mindset and give customers a reason to choose one store over another.

Convenience is one of the best channels for reaching customers through shopper marketing because the purchases are low risk and prone to customer promiscuity and a willingness to try new items. One way to think of c-store shoppers is to divide them into one of four customer types:

  1. Jones – these are the regulars. They come in for life’s little addictions – cigarettes, lottery tickets, soda, snacks. They tend to be brand loyal and the experience is transactional and routine but highly motivational.
  2. The Neighbour – these people come to have a sense of community. They know the store clerks by name, tend to buy their regular purchase as well but it’s the experience of being in the store that matters.
  3. The Last-Minute Shopper – This is the shopper who is asked by their partner to buy milk on the way home. They rarely look at others while in the store and want to get in and out as fast as possible. They are looking for a very specific item and are in a hurry.
  4. The Thrill Seeker – This group is searching for an experience and tends not to be brand loyal. They are very responsive to marketing messages and are willing to try anything once. They want excitement so naturally these are the hardest customers to keep.

C-stores should also try and cater to the growing single demographic. It is now estimated that nearly three in 10 American households consist of just one person and nearly half of U.S. adults are single. Whether it’s ready-made frozen meals for rural-living men or single-serve ice cream or yogurts for city-living females, retailers need to consider this demographic.

Millennials are another area for potential growth for c-stores. They are the largest population segment in the U.S. and one in every 5 household dollars are spent on millennials. These shoppers are more impulsive with spending than older generations, make more unplanned purchases, seek immediate gratification and “In and out” shopping appeals to them. Millennials also use c-stores when they desire a higher quality food experience with a unique narrative or authentic global/ethnic flavor.

One of the hardest things for c-stores to do is stand out from the competition. With so many stores and now quick service restaurants and grocery stores getting in on the action, it’s more imperative than ever. Digital screens can be used in store to communicate key messaging. C-stores need to give people something to associate with their store. That could be anything from a signature item like coffee or décor to unique store front signage. Design creates the experience and gives people a reason to engage. Technology should increasingly be used to try to appeal to millennials – mobile order, drone delivery or curbside pick up.

Given that beer makes up 13% of c-store sales, this is a topic worth mentioning. While millennials are driving demand for premium beer, growth is also happening in flavors and higher-alcohol products. C-stores can capitalize on this by becoming a destination for these products. Besides quick and convenient service, the factors that are important to the beer c-store shopper are: cold – c-stores are uniquely positioned to own the cold beer experience (70% of c-store customers intend to drink it within two hours of purchase), brand – while experimenting with craft beers is fine, c-store shouldn’t ignore the traditional brands, pack size – c-store beer shoppers understand value and pricing so know which pack sizes are most preferable and always have the right pack sizes in stock, price and promotions – they want to feel like they’re getting a good deal even though they understand they might have to pay a higher price for the convenience.

Social media also plays an important role for c-stores but it’s more than just engaging with the audience. The idea is to try get customers to talk with one another to influence brand awareness, purchase decisions, customer loyalty and brand advocacy. The best way to do this is by developing compelling content that will hold consumers attention in the long run rather than coupons or value-driven campaigns that are quickly forgotten. For example, Red Bull caters to its audience by using streaming extreme sports videos.

C-stores must break through the mold of being associated with junk food and offer healthier choices that cater to a mobile savvy younger generation if they are to succeed. One opportunity for c-stores is that increasingly many cities are faced with economic and geographic barriers to accessing healthy and culturally appropriate food. Part of the problem is that many neighbourhoods are underserved by affordable supermarkets. Often there is not the commercial space needed to simply open more supermarkets. There is, however, an abundance of convenience stores, whose existing food retail space could be utilized to better serve communities. Today’s fast paced life-style make them uniquely positioned to capitalize on platforms that reach consumers on the go.

To succeed convenience stores, need to carry a high-quality selection of food and merchandise, have fast and friendly service, competitive pricing, clean stores and rest rooms and well-thought-out signage and store layouts.

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