More than half (58%) of all consumers say their communities will reopen more non-essential businesses within the next two weeks and they expect to be commuting, but at a lower level, according to new consumer research from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

Overall, two in five adult Americans (38%) say they are currently commuting, down from 57% who said they were commuting before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means fully one-third of all commuters are off the roads, even after some recent increases.

“The return of more commuters is certainly good news for the convenience store industry, which sells 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, and food and beverages that are the staple of rush-hour routines. Retailers look forward to providing those everyday essentials and are continuing to enhance operations with a focus on cleanliness and safety,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • Reopening is underway in communities, but it’s mixed what consumers will do. Overall, 58% of consumers say their community will reopen within the next two weeks: 39% say their community is reopening now and another 19% say theirs will open within the next two weeks. However, routines will be tougher to establish: 69% of Americans say they will delay normal work and travel.
  • A return to routine for some. Consumers expect to commute again, but not fully. Before the pandemic, 39% said they commuted at least five days a week, compared to 37% who did not commute. Going forward, 27% expect to commute five or more days a week, a 12-point drop. Meanwhile, 43% will not commute at all, a 6-point increase.
  • Commuter routines will return slowly, but some routines never went away. Overall, 7% of Americans say they purchased items at a convenience store daily during the pandemic, the same percentage that was recorded in January 2020. Overall, 45% have bought something at a convenience store in the past week. However, it may take longer to establish routines with commuters: One in four Americans (23%) who will commute say they will immediately return to their normal routines at convenience stores.
  • Cash purchases have declined. The percentage of customers paying for gas by cash dropped from 21% to 14% as customers shy away from handling cash in the current climate.
  • Cleanliness is intertwined with brand preference. Nearly half (48%) of all Americans say they have a brand preference for a specific convenience store, and the reasons have evolved considerably. Preference based on gas price dipped from 58% to 53%, while cleanliness was sought by 37%. (This was not among the multiple choice options in the January survey).
  • Convenience stores are essential businesses. Because of their presence in every community in the country and offer of fuel, food and other essentials, a strong 88% of Americans say convenience stores are essential businesses. Consumers also say stores have strong values: 78% say that convenience stores share their values and do business the right way. This is an 8-point jump since January and the highest recorded in the five years the question has been asked.
  • Convenience stores save time and are enhancing safety. Consumer interest concepts like cashierless check-out, curbside pickup and delivery has grown, and all have attracted more interest over the past four months. Consumers also say that time savings is most important, with safety emerging as a second choice. Overall, safety benefits were cited by 41% interested in cashierless check-out, 38% of those seeking curbside food pickup and 27% of those who like food delivery.

The national consumer survey was conducted online by PSB (Penn Schoen Berland); 1,100 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed from May 15-18, 2020. Reference is also made to a similar January 24-30 consumer survey of 1,253 American drivers.