What Consumers Say About Prices, Crime and C-Store Jobs

The good news is that consumers are in a way better mood than last year—but that doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns.

What Consumers Say About Prices, Crime and C-Store Jobs

April 2024   minute read

By: Jeff Lenard

What a difference a year makes. Consumers are in a much better mood than they were this time last year, and consumer sentiment has largely returned to the levels of 2022.

The bad news is that consumers weren’t overly optimistic two years ago.

Nearly two in three Americans (64%) still say the country is heading down the wrong track, but that’s a significant improvement over the 70% who felt that way last year. When asked specifically about their area, consumers were considerably more optimistic, with 50% saying that things are heading in the right direction, the same percentage as last year.

Rural consumers are particularly pessimistic; 81% say that the country is headed down the wrong track and 61% say their area also is, the highest rate of any demographic measured.

One particularly distressing number did emerge. While 51% say that life has gone “back to normal,” meaning as it was before the pandemic, 22% of Americans say that things will never get back to normal, an increase of two points over last year. Females and Midwesterners were particularly pessimistic, with 27% of each group saying things will never get back to normal.

With around one in five Americans saying things will never get back to normal, that means it’s more important than ever to understand what consumers are thinking—and what you can do about it. Three areas in particular popped: Concerns about fuel prices, mixed feelings on c-store jobs and crime.

This word cloud illustrates how people responded to the question “What would you say is the most important issue facing your community today?

Prices Affect Sentiment—and Behavior

People are in a better mood, but they’re not in a great mood. What’s behind current consumer sentiment? Certainly gas prices play a role. An overwhelming 83% of Americans say that gas prices affect their feelings about the economy. The good news is that gas prices were in decline at the start of 2024; in January, when the survey was fielded, gas prices were $3.10 per gallon, 24 cents lower than when the survey was fielded last year.

While consumers are feeling better than last year, and lower gas prices may play a role, they are definitely concerned about prices overall.

Inflation has cooled considerably from 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.4% in December 2023, but the cumulative effect from the past few years is taking its toll. Fully three in four Americans (75%) say that higher prices have forced their family to adjust their spending habits. Given that approximately 80% of items purchased in a convenience store are impulse items consumed within the hour, that’s a worrisome statistic.

Another worrisome number: 36% of Americans (and 42% of rural Americans) say we are currently in a recession and another 35% say we will be in a recession this year; only 30% say that we will likely avoid a recession.

This consumer angst may be affecting c-store trips. Only one in three Americans (31%) say they shop convenience stores at least multiple times per week, a 9-point decline from last year.

However, there are ways to entice price-strapped consumers, and customer service can play a role. Consumers generally give our industry positive marks for customer service, with three in four (75%) rating their experience as at least good.

In another good sign, customers say they like their customer experience in convenience stores more than in other retail channels: 23% say our industry provides a better customer experience than other channels, compared with 14% who say the customer experience is worse at c-stores.

Positives and Negatives Associated With Jobs

Customers give the industry solid scores for customer service, but great service requires a continuous pipeline of new employees. However, consumer perceptions are very mixed in terms of what they think about convenience store jobs, especially when it comes to wages.

Let’s start out with the good news: By a nearly 4:1 ratio, consumers have a positive perception of convenience store jobs compared to a negative perception.

However, Americans clearly don’t think that convenience store pay well. Fully half of all consumers say that convenience stores pay minimum wage.

Americans living in the Midwest are most likely to say that jobs pay above minimum wage (41%), while those in the West are least likely to say jobs pay above minimum wage (23%).

To dive deeper, we prodded consumers to guess the average wage of convenience store jobs. The median answer was $13 per hour, but it varied by region and location.

Estimated c-store salaries in the West were the highest, but consumers in the West also say that salaries were most likely only at minimum wage. This dynamic may be related to the higher state minimum wages in many Western states, with California and Washington both having minimum wages over $15 per hour.

Regardless of your region, there may be an opportunity to tell your story on wages if you pay considerably higher than perceptions—or the competition.

There are other messages that may work in telling your jobs story. The survey tested 11 messages related to c-store jobs (six positive ones, five negative ones). The two positive messages testing best related to first jobs and the ability to move up the ladder. However, anything stating that c-store jobs can be good careers or provide a middle-class living did less well.

Crime Is a Growing Concern

A big issue on consumers’ mind is crime. Nearly half of all Americans say that crime has increased (45%), almost four times the number who say that crime has decreased (12%).

Americans also see that stores take preventative measures to address crime; 72% say that they have been to stores where products are locked behind security cases. And nearly half (49%) have been to stores that had security guards. Both practices are most common in the West; 83% of these survey respondents have seen locked cases and 73% have seen security guards.

Most worrisome is that customers are also taking preventative measures. One in three customers (32%) say that they have changed shopping habits because they felt unsafe at a particular store or location.

Consumers also weighed in on how to address crime. They were split 50-50 when asked whether local law enforcement or retailers should have greater responsibility for preventing crime and shoplifting in stores.

They also felt that addressing the social issues that can cause crime should have a higher priority than law enforcement and deterring crime.

If there is any good news about crime, it’s that convenience stores aren’t blamed as the reason for it.

Consumers Would Support Stores That Support Their Communities

Consumers have a more favorable view of companies that take a leadership role in addressing societal issues.

72% say they are more favorable to retailers that partner with nonprofits dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking and identifying victims (only 5% say they are less favorable).

64% say they are more favorable to stores that have Narcan available in the event someone has an opioid overdose (only 7% say they are less favorable).

So What? … and What’s Next?

There’s a lot on consumers’ minds now, and it’s possible that consumer sentiment will backtrack during a contentious election cycle in which both sides will use pocketbook issues—especially gas prices—as a central talking point.

So how do you keep customers coming to your stores with all the noise that they are facing?

First, be an oasis of normalcy. It was clear from the survey results that consumers want things to be better and care about their communities. Play to your strengths in both of these areas.

Find ways to give your customers at least a few minutes of refuge from negative things in the world. Play to their concerns over inflation by communicating your value offer, whether price cuts or 2-for-1 and combo deals. Make your stores as fun as they can be. And show that you care about the community and issues important to them.

And most of all tell them—over and over again—about what you stand for. They want to hear it.

There may be an opportunity to tell your story on wages if you pay considerably higher than perceptions.

Want More Info?

NACS has online resources that dive deeper into the issues covered.

Topics pages at convenience.org:

Under “Topics” in the main navigation bar you can find information on these issues and many more:

• Security and safety

• Human resources

• Community

• Human trafficking

• PR strategies

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About the 2024 Survey NACS has conducted national consumer sentiment surveys since 2007, with a specific focus on fueling issues. The 2024 NACS Consumer Survey was conducted by national public opinion research firm Bold Decision (bold-decision.com). A total of 600 U.S. consumers were surveyed from January 21-28, 2024. The margin for error for the study is +/- 4.0 at the 95% confidence level.

Convenience Matters podcast


With 400 episodes and counting, the weekly Convenience Matters podcast has covered every topic discussed in this article. The 20- to 30-minute episodes are perfect for on-the-go education and entertainment, whether you’re at the gym, walking the dog or spending some windshield time traveling between stores.

Do you have a question you want answered in any or all of these forums? Send a note to Jeff Lenard at jlenard@convenience.org.

Jeff Lenard

Jeff Lenard

Jeff Lenard is NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected].

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