Rising gas prices took toll on U.S. convenience stores in 2011, as traffic declined 4%; traditional convenience stores more diversified in food and beverage offerings were better-positioned to weather the trend: NPD Group

, March 27, 2012 (press release) – U.S. consumers waged a courageous battle against high gas prices by driving less last year, but still ended up paying 24 percent more for less gas, according to motor fuels research by The NPD Group, a leading market research company. NPD’s Motor Fuels Index finds that consumers paid 24 percent more dollars to purchase 1.7 percent fewer gallons in 2011 compared to 2010. The increased spending represents more than $76 billion dollars going into gas tanks in 2011 versus the previous year.

The results of the 2011 Motor Fuels Index, which continually tracks consumer motor fuel purchasing behaviors and attitudes, were reminiscent of 2008 when the national average price for a gallon of gasoline remained above the $3.00 per gallon mark for 12 months (November 2007 to Oct 2008), reports NPD. During that time, miles driven decreased by 55 billion miles. Prices once again crossed the $3.00 threshold in December 2010 and remain above that level to date. Miles driven never fully recovered from the 2008 declines, and consumers cut back another 36 billion miles through December 2011.

“Consumers continue to modify driving patterns to purchase fewer gallons, but it isn’t enough to offset price increases at the pump,” says David Portalatin, motor fuels analyst at NPD. “There’s no doubt that the consumer is losing share of wallet at the pump despite trying to reduce consumption.”

With more of the wallet going towards gas, it means less to spend on other things, says Portalatin. For example, NPD’s Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of more than 51,000 c-store shoppers in the U.S., reports that total convenience store consumer traffic declined by 4 percent in 2011. This effect was more severe at oil company-branded outlets that are typically more dependent on gasoline to drive customer traffic. Traditional convenience chains that are more diversified in their food and beverage offerings were better positioned to weather the trend, according to Portalatin.

According to the most recent Motor Fuels Index findings, through March 2012, consumers have already cut back another 1 percent on gallon purchases but have spent 9 percent more for those gallons compared to the same time period a year ago.

“Gas prices have continued to increase into the spring of 2012 with more increases expected,” says Portalatin. “And while seeing $3 plus on the pump is no longer the shock it once was, there is still only so much money in the wallet, and something will need to give in order to fill the tank.”

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