A tightened grip on consumer spending and a historically soft December contributed to a decline in convenience store visits in the fourth calendar quarter of 2013, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company.  In spite of favorable gas prices and improved consumer confidence, traffic volumes for conventional C-stores were down 3 percent in the quarter compared to the same period in 2012, according to NPD convenience store market research.

Visits to traditional C-store chains and major oil chains remained stable, but steady traffic at these two channels was not enough to offset the declines at small/other chains where visits were down 8.7 percent, and conventional chains, which saw traffic decline by 2.7 percent, according to NPD’s Convenience Store Monitor, which continually tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 convenience store shoppers in the U.S. Those consumers who visited C-stores in the last quarter of 2013 made an average of 6 visits per person in a 30-day period, which is on par with the same quarter year ago.

Both loyal-to-one-C-store customers and those who visit multiple C-stores cut down on their visits in the fourth quarter of 2013, reports NPD. Loyal consumers decreased their visit share by 1.3 percent compared to year ago, and those who use many C-stores reduced their share by 1.6 percent. On the flip side, the C-store customer core segment, those consumers who visit two to three C-stores, increased their visit share by more than 3 percent in the period, and they remain the largest group at 51 percent of buyers.

Average product units purchased per visit per buyer were 3.3, which was flat compared to year ago. The average product incidence, percent of customers who bought a specific product, remained somewhat steady for most categories, except for growth categories like lottery tickets, cigarettes, and candy/gum.

“It will remain a challenging and competitive environment in 2014, and retailers will continue to fight for dollars,” says April Moffa, NPD convenience store industry analyst. “C-stores can hold on to their base with the right product mix, selection, and quality, all of which are growing reasons why consumers choose the stores they do.”