Convenience store shopper insights: Attitudes, behaviors, and buying habits

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Posted Jul 27, 2023
Jessica Glace

Convenience stores are a big part of the American lifestyle, but certainly consumers have a variety of thoughts and opinions about them. To satisfy our curiosity, we launched a 3-minute online survey to 1,000 Americans who have shopped at a convenience store in the past month, looking for insights into consumer attitudes and perceptions surrounding c-stores. After collecting responses in less than 24 hours using the aytm platform, these are our findings.

Consumer insights on convenience store shoppers

Let’s kick things off with a bit of a highlight reel. Here are the biggest takeaways we found in our study:

  • 76% of in-store shoppers always or usually have a specific item(s) in mind before entering the store.
  • But it's not just about convenience: 65% of in-store shoppers report usually leaving with an item they did not initially intend to purchase. Unplanned purchases hold opportunity.
  • The top factor that influences an unplanned purchase is personal craving or desire (65.5%) followed by sale or discounted price (51%).

In this article, we’ll unpack our findings on the distinct shopper segments—what really drives someone to buy on impulse, and how can we earn serious customer loyalty? We’ll be sure to leave you with recommendations to meet these convenience store moments. 

Let’s take stock of the c-store landscape

The neighborhood convenience store is the beating heart of communities across America. But do we really know what these stores truly mean to consumers? The siren call of a morning coffee? A craving for a bag of gummy worms? The urge to test one's luck with a 2-dollar scratch off? Maybe it’s just the comfort of knowing you can pop in and out whenever you need something?

Here at aytm, we live for questions like these—the ones that uncover the hidden motivations behind everyday human behaviors. So we set our sights on uncovering valuable insights into this unique audience. Let’s dive in—hopefully we’ll gain a whole new appreciation for that little shop around the corner.

The four c-store shopper segments

What are the different types of convenience store shoppers? Meet the cast of characters whose diverse needs define the future of convenience stores—capturing transactions, cravings, and community connections all in one place. We let respondents self identify with the following statements, pulled from research on C-Store Dive:

Last-minute Buyers (42%)

These shoppers identified with the phrase: “I drop into the convenience store on my way home or to another destination for a specific, last-minute purchase. I just want to get in and get out.” Give them speedy service and payment options so they can be on their way.

Transactional Shoppers (25.6%)

These shoppers chose: “I routinely shop at convenience stores to fulfill immediate and habitual needs. I purchase the same brands consistently.” Keep their favorites well-stocked and loyalty will be yours.

Emotional Shoppers (17%)

These consumers identified with the statement: “I stop at a convenience store looking for products that satisfy my mood. I’ll try pretty much any brand.” Entice them with unique limited-time offers and lots of tasting samples. Their wild cards can deliver the biggest payoffs. 

Friendly Regulars (16%): 

And finally, these shoppers chose the response: “I look at the convenience store as part of the neighborhood and am on a first-name basis with the clerks. I stop in regularly.” Give them spaces to socialize and ways to engage through events or fundraisers. Their loyalty knows no bounds.

A trip to the convenience store

Now that we understand the kinds of shoppers that walk through the door, the next question is when (and how often) they come in. Our study tells us that most convenience store shoppers (68.8%) visit at least once a week. We also see that Fridays and Saturdays are the two most popular days, and that shoppers are most likely to pop in between 2 and 6 pm.

The majority (67.6%) only spend 10 minutes or less on each trip, though certain segments like Friendly Regulars tend to linger longer. Over a third (35.8%) spend 6 to 10 minutes, while a small group (5.8%) stay 25 minutes or more. Those longer visits also correspond to higher spending overall.

For stores aiming to optimize customer experiences, understanding when your most frequent and highest-spending shoppers visit and how long they stay is key. Staff up during peak hours and days so no one is stuck waiting in line with items to scan and places to be. And consider layouts conducive to socializing for those inclined to linger, while also delivering fast transactions for the "just need one thing" crowd rushing in on the way home.

Ultimately a convenience store succeeds or fails based on saving people time while also simply being there whenever errands call or cravings kick in. By tracking traffic patterns and tweaking operations to match, you can transform visits into valuable moments that build loyalty for the long run. When a quick stop on the way home turns into time well-spent discovering and sampling something new, you’ve given customers a reason to come back for the next adventure.

Will that be all for you today?

When customers walk into a convenience store, a vast majority (76%) go in with a specific purchase in mind. But once inside, many (65%) end up leaving with an additional item they didn’t originally intend to buy. What leads shoppers to make these impulse purchases during their visit?

According to our study, personal cravings or desires (65.5%) are the top reason for unplanned buys, followed by sales or discounts (51.3%) and flavor or product options that catch their eye (46.6%). Certain segments like Emotional Shoppers are especially prone to impulse buys when seeking out products that satisfy their mood or adventurous tastes.

Among specific items, candy, salty snacks, protein bars and prepared foods are most often purchased on impulse. Tobacco products, liquor, bottled beverages such as coffee, tea and energy drinks are more frequently the intended object of the visit. However, Emotional Shoppers do make more unscripted tobacco (17.6%) and alcohol buys when the mood strikes.

When asked which new products they would be most likely to try, 70% of shoppers said bottled coffees, 67% said energy drinks and 65.6% indicated pre-packaged meals or snacks. These options with mass appeal are ideal for winning over new customers in search of an exciting find.

For convenience stores aiming to boost impulse purchases and gain loyal regulars, product placement and promotions are key. Feature an assortment of addictive and inspiring treats, limited-edition flavors or seasonal specials near the checkout to tempt customers. And offer trial-size or sample versions of new products to overcome hesitancy for unfamiliar brands. With the right mix of staples and surprises hitting their craving spot, shoppers will keep coming back to discover "just one more thing" they didn't know they needed.

Key takeaways: What c-stores can do to win consumers

As community hubs where people come together, convenience stores are primed to thrive if they can meet their customers' diverse needs for connection, adventure, and convenience under one roof. Based on our research, here are the top takeaways for how c-stores can shape experiences that build loyalty today and into the future:

It's not just about convenience

While speed and efficiency are important, many shoppers visit for more—to discover new products, support neighborhood businesses or connect with their community. Stores should cater to Quick Stoppers but also to their regulars and those willing to try new things.

Unplanned purchases hold opportunity

Impulse buys are driven by cravings and mood, especially for younger and more adventurous customers. There’s an opportunity for bottled drinks, snacks, and limited releases of new products to win them over.

Start with what people want

It’s important to carry staples that satisfy planned needs. But also leave space for surprises, samples, and special finds in order to turn ordinary visits into exciting moments of wonder and delight.

Community is your secret weapon

For some, their c-store is a sanctuary for community. Engage shoppers through events, fundraisers and ways to provide feedback or input into the store. Show you value them and the role you play in their lives.

Keep up with trends in indulgence and health

As interests in premium, natural and functional products grow, c-stores can be there with high-quality snacks, drinks, fresh foods and meal solutions in a pinch. But also don't forget the classics.

Use data to stay agile

Track what products, promotions and store features resonate, and tweak based on sales and shopper feedback. Insights into the shifting motivations of your target audiences will be essential to future growth.

The convenience store that understands how to be more than convenient, it stands to be a hub for community. By learning what really drives your customers and adjusting experiences to meet people where they're at today, stores can become essential to the lives of their consumers, and poised for long-term success.

Convenience can’t afford to stand still

Shopper motivations never stand still—are you ready for the next reveal? Take a closer look at what your customers really want and need today. We're here to help you find the truth and stay ahead of the next trend, together. Want to explore the complete findings from our study into America's convenience store shoppers? Check out the full results on our platform!

Want to dig deeper into the study? Get more details here.

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