What Shoppers Want

Four things to watch now: digital, spend, value and fundamentals.

What Shoppers Want

June 2022   minute read

By: Sara Counihan

There are four convenience shopper trends that will drive growth in 2022, according to the 2021 NACS Convenience Voices survey, which provides “moment of truth” insights from convenience store shoppers. 

Your customer is becoming more discerning, demanding, thoughtful and deliberate. 

The first trend that will influence shoppers is digital. “Digital will continue to influence every stage of the customer journey, and a fully integrated loyalty and digital platform is not optional,” said Leroy Kelsey, NACS research director.

Where and when shoppers decide to purchase is made up of three segments: premeditated, en route to or from somewhere else, and on site. Only 19% of purchasing decisions happen on site, according to the Convenience Voices survey.

Convenience shopping is highly premeditated by nature, said Kelsey, with 43% of shoppers deciding to shop convenience before they leave for the store and another 38% deciding on the way to or from somewhere else, meaning that over 80% of a decision to make a purchase at a c-store happens before the customer sets foot in a store.

“Your customer is becoming more discerning, demanding, thoughtful and deliberate,” said Kelsey. 

Leroy Kelsey, director, research, NACS

“They are basing their decisions on your historic brand value and your brand promise,” he said. “Why would you leave 80% of the runway open to chance for other brands to sneak into that space you need to control? Digital is going to get you that capability.”

Digital is extending the retail runway, according to Kelsey, and a c-store brand’s relationship with a customer is no longer confined to four walls. In the 2021 NACS survey, 19% of c-store shoppers used digital search for products and services to select a c-store, and 79% of those digital devices were mobile.

“We can no longer leave that 80% open. We have to have a brand presence there, and we have to be more thoughtful about how to communicate with our shoppers,” said Kelsey. 


The second c-store shopper trend is that consumers are rationalizing discretionary expenses.

Consumers intend to spend more on staples in 2022, such as utilities and groceries. However, the food delivery/takeaway and transportation costs categories are right on the line of whether customers will spend more money on them this year. 

Kelsey says this means only the most efficient and effective operators in these categories will cause customers to spend more in those categories this year.

Subscriptions will continue to dominate shopper buying behaviors this year. The average household in 2021 had eight e-commerce subscriptions, and in families where the head of the household is 18-34 years old, that amount balloons to 11 subscriptions on average. Forty-eight percent of convenience-store shoppers ages 18-34 have an e-commerce subscription.

“Prior to the pandemic, c-store shopper e-commerce membership was 32% and growing by about 5% each year,” said Kelsey. “The lockdown and busy lifestyles doubled that type of engagement to 68.9% in 2020.”

Kelsey said that convenience retailers are leaning into subscription models to skirt shopper resistance to premiums. Subscriptions make upselling, cross-selling and basket-building easier. They also reduce the cost to acquire customers and streamline sales forecasting, plus they build loyalty and make revenue predictable.

Shoppers indicated that they are looking for value.


The third shopper trend is the search for value. Thirty-one percent of customers selected a c-store based on price alone, according to the survey.

“Even though they are looking for a site based on price, it’s experience that is going to have more influence than on price alone,” said Kelsey.

According to the Convenience Voices survey, the No. 1 reason why shoppers selected a location to buy fuel was because they were running low on gas. Nearly 37% (36.8%) of those surveyed responded this way, but 35.7% of customers selected the location because of their familiarity with it—only one percentage point less.

“When we talk about your brand promise and your exchange of value, that includes price and whether you’re competitive in your shoppers’ eyes—that is going to be key moving forward,” said Kelsey.

Kelsey also noted that loyalty rewards and incentives ranked higher as a reason to visit a fueling location than fuel brand preference.

“Shoppers indicated that they are looking for value. They want to connect with means that can serve their resources, and this is going to continue as inflation increases,” he said.

When asked why shoppers didn’t buy products inside a convenience store, the No. 1 reason was because they didn’t need anything from the store today. The next three reasons cited were not enough time, limited/strict budget and too expensive.

Kelsey said retailers need to optimize customers’ time—19% of surveyed shoppers indicated that curbside influenced their site selection, and 26% said that they were interested in drive-thru service.

Additionally, retailers should customize promotions that speak to the customer and communicate value and relevance, Kelsey said. Thirty percent of shoppers noticed a store promotion, according to the survey, and of those 30% who saw a promo, 15% noticed a mobile promotion.

“The opportunities abound in reconnecting with the shopper, and digital gives us the means to connect in a highly customized way,” said Kelsey.

Shoppers are looking for us to perform on a fundamental level, so refocus on the fundamentals.


The fourth c-store shopper trend is that c-store expectations are highly elevated at every interaction, and this going to continue, according to Kelsey.

Despite strong c-store industry sales numbers, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for the industry is 44.5.

“We had a challenging two years, and I’ll be the first to say that this is not because of lack of effort. It’s because we’ve been kicking into the wind,” Kelsey said.

He said the industry must calibrate and adjust. But where do c-stores start? Kelsey said to begin with the customer missions with below-average NPS scores, which include store services, specific urgent needs and restroom, among others.

31% of customers selected a c-store based on price alone.

Looking at these below-average missions, they are the fundamentals of our industry, said Kelsey. “Shoppers are looking for us to perform on a fundamental level, so refocus on the fundamentals.” He added that it’s all about keeping up the consistent experience drumbeat.

Despite a below-average NPS for 2021, the score is up 47% over the past 12 years.

“We have continued to raise the profile of the shopping experience despite short-term setbacks,” said Kelsey. “We can’t lose focus. We need to drive our future. Look how far we’ve come, but even more importantly, oh the places we will go.” 

NACS Convenience Voices is packed with valuable, proprietary insights you can only get from NACS. Leveraging the ubiquity of mobile technology enables more precise targeting, expanded geographic reporting, powerful multimedia feedback and more. Visit www.convenience.org/voices to learn how to participate. 

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