The moment of truth—a phrase that can mean many things but at its essence captures something important that tests something or someone and has an effect on the future. For NACS, the retail moment of truth is a consumer’s motivation and behavior behind a purchase at a convenience store, and a significant part of NACS Convenience Voices, a syndicated mobile shopper insights program. During the late summer of 2020, NACS conducted more than 7,000 mobile intercepts across the U.S. to capture customer experiences, develop a deeper understanding of their motivations and activate shopper behavior against data.
So, what did NACS discover about convenience store shoppers, and what do those insights mean for our industry?
Leroy Kelsey, director of research, NACS, shared some key shopper trends that emerged from the surveys, and how they play a critical role in shaping retail strategy.
Shift to Online
One critical trend was a stronger shift from brick-and-mortar shopping to e-commerce. Last year, many Americans were unable or unwilling to leave home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and turned to online retailers to fulfill their shopping needs.
NACS asked shoppers if they were members of an e-commerce service, and prior to the pandemic, nearly one-third (30.7%) of convenience shoppers subscribed to a service. Post-pandemic, NACS found that 68.9% of convenience shoppers belonged to an e-commerce platform.
“The trend was growing at a rate of about 5% each year until COVID when we basically doubled the number of shoppers that were engaged with some e-commerce membership,” said Kelsey.
Listen to the Convenience Matters podcast as Leroy Kelsey, NACS director of research, shares further research from NACS Convenience Voices.
It’s no surprise that Amazon Prime was the No. 1 most popular e-commerce platform in 2020, with 78.0% of those surveyed subscribing. Walmart moved up two slots to become the second most popular e-commerce membership with 42.0% of shoppers subscribing, edging out Ebay and Apple. The No. 3 and No. 4 spots were DoorDash and UberEats.
Food delivery apps “have now become aggressive competitors,” according to Kelsey, who also noted that dark stores (vacant retail stores converted to local distribution centers) and microwarehouses should be monitored due to their ability to mimic convenience’s core competencies.
According to eMarketer, e-commerce is 15% of overall retail. “Eighty-five percent of retail still happens within four walls,” said Kelsey. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our channel because we’re the closest to our consumers. … Being the closest in the community, we sell time, and the demand to connect the [consumer with] products in almost real time will continue.”
Dayparts Are Changing
Looking at the reason why shoppers are coming into convenience stores, a “quick trip to pick something up” doubled from 19.6% in 2019 to 46.7% in 2020. “Shoppers are staying in their own local orbit,” said Kelsey. “They’re taking trips to pick up essentials and staples and then stopping in [a convenience store] along the way.”
Kelsey also noted more people shopped convenience on their way home from work in 2020 (17.4%); whereas 13.5% of people stopped at a convenience store commuting from home in 2019. “The going-from-home or the breakfast daypart has typically been a beachhead for us, but when you look at 2019 versus 2020, we’re seeing the inverse half,” said Kelsey.
Essential workers, busy families and professionals are stopping in to grab refreshment, snacks or food on their way home, according to Kelsey, but as travel restrictions lighten and people get back on the road, retailers can expect the morning daypart popularity to return.
In the meantime, there is an opportunity to provide a food offer to these shoppers, as they’re looking to convenience for a substantial meal. A quarter of shoppers surveyed said they seek a meal for now or to take home. However, according to Kelsey, 31.0% of shoppers plan to buy fast-food within 30 minutes after they visit a convenience store.
“Think about it as a business of penny profits—can we really afford to give away occasions with high margin food?” asked Kelsey. “No matter what your offer, the ability to connect with shoppers who are already coming on our sites and provide a meal occasion for essential workers and busy families has to be a priority.”
Push to Loyalty
According to Kelsey, 57.0% of shoppers surveyed belong to a convenience loyalty program. “This is a huge opportunity for us to innovate, build awareness and engage shoppers,” he said.
The Midwest region led in convenience loyalty and engagement, which was expected, as the region includes operators that were early pioneers in the loyalty space. When comparing coasts, the Southeast region notably outpaced the West.
According to Kelsey, 58.0% of shoppers said they were aware that the retailer they were shopping at offered a mobile app. “That’s up 19 percentage points year over year, and I think it underscores that shoppers were looking for ways to conduct business and connect with products in a low friction, high impact and high convenience environment,” said Kelsey.
Of the 58% of shoppers who were aware their retailer had an app, 60% downloaded the app—which means 40% were aware of the app but did not download it. “This is a huge opportunity for us to try to understand what those barriers are [to downloading the app],” said Kelsey.
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.
What’s more, 41.2% said that they did not download the app because they did not think the benefits of the app were relevant to them, and 23.5% said their visit to the store did not justify downloading the app. “The No. 1 issue for folks in terms of barriers to downloading … is that they can’t make a connection to [the app’s] relevance, and that’s a major opportunity,” said Kelsey.
Promotions Increase Impact
According to Kelsey, over the past six years, about one out of five shoppers noticed a promotion. In 2020, nearly one out of three shoppers noticed a promotion.
What types of promotions receive the most traction? BOGO promotions have given way to bundles with 36.0% of shoppers noticing a bundled offer. Since 35.4% of shoppers noticed reward bonus points, Kelsey said to look for reward points to continue developing as “operators double down and up the ante on each dollar spent.”
In terms of where shoppers noticed promotions, at the shelf or on cooler doors were the No. 1 noticed placement, “but don’t forget that communication starts before the shop … 94.0% of shoppers notice promotions at the pump.”