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C-store customers want clean bathrooms and hand sanitizer stations: Study

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As provinces and regions enter new stages of re-opening in the era of COVID-19, more drivers will be on the roads, whether commuting to work, visiting reopened businesses or summer travels—and that could present opportunities for convenience stores.

Overall, 84% of drivers surveyed say they will be visiting convenience stores on their journeys: 23% say they will shop at convenience stores as part of their regular routine, 38% say they will shop at stores when they need something, and an additional 23% say they will only purchase gas at convenience stores, according to a consumer survey conducted for the National Association of Convenience Stores by PSB Insights. While the survey is U.S.-based, consumer insights are applicable here, too.

When it comes to enticing customers in store as travel picks up, the major focus is on cleanliness.

With gas prices still relatively low, consumers are looking to other offers within the store, with safety and comfort with store operations now paramount. Nearly half of customers surveyed (48%) say they have a store brand preference, and 37% of those with a preference say cleanliness is a factor driving that preference.

As essential services, convenience stores in Canada were early adopters in addressing protective measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is, as most retailers are trying to adjust to the new precautions, most c-stores have systems in place.

READ: C-stores meet consumers’ needs during the pandemic: CICC

Here are some other cleanliness-focused insights from the consumer survey:

  • Cash sales are down. The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21% in January to 14% in May, as many consumers are shying away from handling cash and seeking options that minimize contact.
  • Hand sanitizer access is the top priority for consumers. Consumers rated access to hand sanitizer in-store (68%) and at the fuel pump (67%) as the top two choices when asked which of 11 enhanced safety procedures they thought were appropriate to implement at convenience stores.
  • Bathrooms are top safety concerns. Consumers said bathrooms were the biggest concern for exposure to COVID-19 (54%), followed by concerns contracting the virus from other customers (47%) and from doors and surfaces (47%).

Consumers also weighed in on community engagement. More than one in three consumers said they would be much more likely to shop at a store that was actively supporting charitable causes.

READ: Petroleum sector pledges support during COVID-19 

  • The more direct the donation, the better: Distributing food (30%) and personal protective equipment (18%) directly to those needing them rated the highest when consumers were asked to name the most important donation—ahead of grants and donations to food banks (16%) or monetary contributions to hospital workers (11%).
  • All news is local: If businesses are doing charitable work, consumers most want to see it on the local news (69%), far ahead of social media (42%) and in-store signage (35%).
  • Charity is contagious.When asked what actions they would take as a result of a store doing charitable work, 39% said they would tell others about it. And it may also spur a movement: 34% would donate directly to that charity, and 29% would join a fundraiser.

“The findings also show that there are opportunities for convenience retailers to capture sales from consumers increasingly looking to re-establish routines,” Jeff Lenard, NACS VP of strategic industry initiatives, said in a release. “Those who can address consumer concerns about cleanliness and their communities and build upon that with a compelling offer can find ways to grow their sales over the coming months.”