An overwhelming 84% of U.S. convenience store operators say they are optimistic about their business prospects for the fourth quarter, which would continue the pattern of strong sales throughout 2019. Retailer optimism in Q3 was 83%.
Nearly three in four retailers (74%) say that in-store merchandise sales were up over the first nine months of 2019. Convenience retailers, which sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, also report that fuels sales increased: 52% report that fuel sales were higher than last year. Only 10% of retailers say that merchandise sales were down and only 17% reported a decrease in fuel sales.
The results were from the latest quarterly retail sentiment survey from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and included responses from 118 companies, representing 2,906 stores.
Fourth quarter sales will be closely linked to two factors that drive customer traffic to stores: the weather and geopolitical events that could affect oil prices, say retailers.
Retailers say that the morning daypart (approximately 6:00 am to 11:00 am) drives the most sales: 62% say it’s the most importance daypart for merchandise sales and 50% say it’s the most important time for fuels sales.
Retailers also say that beverages help drive customer traffic inside the store. Most retailers (57%) say that buying a beverage was the top reason why customers comes inside the store, compared to 23% for a food purchase and 18% to purchase something else.
While retailers express strong optimism about their business prospects, they were slightly less bullish about the overall economy and the overall convenience and fuel retailing industry. Overall, 77% say they are optimistic about the economy, a slight 1-point drop from last quarter, and 78% are optimistic about the industry, a 2-point decline.
The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey was fielded September 17-23.