Nearly 84% of in-store sales increased in 2018, according to U.S. convenience store owners surveyed by NACS, Alexandria, Va.

Strong sales in 2018 are one reason for an increase in retailers’ optimism about business prospects for 2019. For instance, 85% of retailers are optimistic about their prospects for the first quarter, the highest measure of optimism for the first quarter in the past five years.

Above all, retailers say that the industry’s offer of convenience continues to resonate, especially with new offers like a mobile app for order pickup.

The strong in-store sales were led by foodservice growth (68% of retailers say sales increased) and continued strong sales growth of better-for-you items (62% of retailers report sales increases).

Beverages were a big seller in 2018, with specialty beverages driving sales.

Consumer concerns for 2019
However, retailers didn’t paint as rosy of a picture about the overall economy. In fact, only 62% say that they are optimistic about the economy, the lowest percentage in 11 quarters.

Given the tight labor market, retailers say labor issues are the biggest threat to their businesses. Top concerns cited by retailers for 2019 are:

  • Labor issues (59%)
  • Regulations/legislation (47%)
  • Economic concerns (41%)
  • Competition from other convenience stores (39%)
  • Competition from other formats (29%)
  • Potential decrease in driving/increase in gas prices (19%) 

Despite concerns, retailers remain upbeat that 2019 may be a repeat of 2018 for sales—as long as the economy stays relatively strong.

The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey tracks retailer sentiment related to their businesses, the industry and the economy. A total of 72 member companies, representing a cumulative 3,885 stores, participated in the December 2018 survey.