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It’s no secret that convenience stores took a major hit during the pandemic. With early indications of society’s eagerness to take on new travels and return to a semblance of  normal, c-stores should be ready for a great deal of business in the near future.

According to the latest National Association of Convenience Stores Retailer Member Pulse Survey, optimism is in the air for the U.S. and c-store owners. Leisure travel and routine shopping trips are anticipated to go back to pre-pandemic levels this summer, bringing in more traffic and business than ever. As we head into the heat of summer, here are three things that c-stores should expect.

An Increase in Sales That Were Decreased During the Pandemic

Prior to COVID-19, c-stores were responsible for 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States. The pandemic produced a 13%decrease in fuel sales at c-stores due to the lessened customer traffic.

With the easing of pandemic restrictions and vaccines being distributed, the survey states that anticipated summer travel and commuting patterns should bring the percentage close to pre-pandemic levels.

C-stores are also anticipating about a 43% growth in cold beverage and coffee sales. Due to the lack of driving during the pandemic, sales in these items decreased roughly 10%-15% depending on location. Because of this, c-stores began offering different discount opportunities, a popular one being discounts for repeat purchases of an item. This tactic helped increase in-person business and sales.

Immediate consumption foods, including candy bars and chips, are estimated to see a 62% rise in sales. Pre-pandemic, 83% of the items purchased at c-stores were these immediate consumption foods. Additionally, 36% of c-stores said they were focusing on adding multi-serve meals and premade foods to their inventory, while another 13% decided to add more stock-up grocery and pantry items to their stores.

Though many items have seen immense growth in purchase rates in the recent weeks, self-serve options, including soft-serve and soda machines, may still be on hiatus.

Continuing Safety Measures and Encouraging Vaccinations for All Employees

With COVID-19 vaccines accessible nationwide, c-stores are encouraging their employees to get vaccinated, while also ensuring safety protocols are in place at the physical stores.

Additionally, 34% of c-stores have offered paid time off for employees to get their vaccines, 26% have helped coordinate and find vaccine locations for their employees, and 10% have offered monetary incentives.

Getting employees vaccinated encourages and promotes safety for others. This creates an atmosphere for customers to feel comfortable without wearing a mask while shopping inside of stores, in turn, increasing foot traffic.

Continued Top-Tier Customer Service and the Development of Service Expansions

Even with a large drop in sales for c-stores during the pandemic, there were many lessons learned that will be leveraged to help them grow in the future.

One example of this is contactless payments. Services such as Apple Pay have become extremely popular and convenient for customers. Home delivery and curbside pickup have also become wildly popular and are features c-stores intend to continue offering.

In fact, 20% of c-stores are likely to begin offering services such as drive-thru and delivery in the coming months and years because of the convenience factor for customers.

As the end of the pandemic nears, the main focus this summer will be the value and intent of top-tier customer service. The pandemic was tough for many people, so kindness, patience, and joy is especially needed in interactions these days.

Being friendly and personable towards customers will continue to build community support, encourage business and ensure we continue to see growth in c-stores post-pandemic.

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