Low gas prices will likely lead to increased summer vacation spending but won’t lead to longer trips, according to a survey of gas customers conducted by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), which represents the industry that sells an estimated 80% of the gas purchased in the country.
A strong majority of those planning vacations (81%) say they will send at least as much time on vacation as they did last summer, a strong 10-point increase from 2014 when gas prices averaged more than $3.60 per gallon.
While low gas prices may influence the length of vacations, they likely won’t influence the distance driven. Only one in nine drivers (11%) say they will drive more this summer because of low gas prices.
Summer vacationers expect to spend time and money inside the convenience store where they fill up. Overall, 62% of travelers say they expect to buy a drink and 58% say they will buy a snack when they fill up on their summer vacations. And more than one in four (28%) say that they will buy a meal or sandwich while filling up.
With gas prices low, consumers also say they consider price less important when shopping for fuel. Overall, 46% of drivers say that they will stop at the closest location when they are ready to stop, compared to 41% who say that the gas price dictates where they stop. This is the first time price wasn’t cited as the top reason to selected a fueling location. Quality food options (34%) and clean bathrooms (33%) were also cited as top reasons to stop.
Other highlights from the survey include:
- 75% of travelers say they will use the store’s bathroom when fueling up on trips this summer, a five-point jump from 2016.
- Women are much more likely to purchase bottled water than men (66% versus 49%), and are also more likely to buy candy (73% versus 52%) and coffee (55% versus 44%).
- Travelers are seeking out healthier choices: 29% of consumers say they are buying more healthier choices than a year ago, and 43% of those ages 18 – 34 are buying more healthier items.
“Vacationers are saying that they will reward retailers who can best meet their one-stop shopping needs—whether fueling up, taking a bathroom break, grabbing quick snacks and drinks or enjoying upscale meals and healthy options,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Jeff Lenard.
Store sales from June – August are 11.3% higher than the rest of the year, especially beverage sales, according to sales data from NACS. Convenience stores account for 42% of all packaged beverage sales and 59% of beer sales in the country, factoring in all sales from convenience stores, grocery, drug and mass merchandisers, according to Nielsen.
Throughout the year, Americans are more likely to visit a convenience store to quench a thirst than for any other reason. Nearly half of all convenience store customers (49%) said that they primarily stopped to purchase a beverage on their most recent visit, according to a 2016 NACS consumer survey.
Not surprisingly, ice sales also are extremely strong over the summer months. Approximately two-thirds of all sales of bagged ice occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to the International Packaged Ice Association. And, of course, convenience stores are the top destination to purchase bagged ice. Convenience stores sell an estimated 45% of all packaged ice purchased, or $1.9 billion overall.
The NACS consumer survey was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB); 1,104 adult Americans were surveyed from May 3 – 5, 2017.