CHICAGO – Stable gas prices weren't enough to bring consumers to their local convenience stores. Customer traffic to conventional c-stores slipped 3 percent in the fourth calendar quarter of 2013 compared to a year ago, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research firm.

NPD Group noted that steady traffic to c-store chains and major oil chains was not enough to offset declines and small/other chains where visits were down 8.7 percent. Conventional chains saw traffic slip by 2.7 percent, according to NPD's Convenience Store Monitor, which tracks the purchasing behavior of roughly 50,000 convenience store shoppers in the US.

“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.”

Consumers who visited a c-store in the quarter made an average of six visits per person in a 30-day period, NPD noted, which is consistent with year-ago figures.

For the quarter, customers loyal to one store cut their visits by 1.3 percent compared to a year ago, while customers who visit multiple c-stores reduced their visits by 1.6 percent, according to NPD. However, consumers who visit two to three c-stores increased their visits by more than 3 percent in the quarter; those consumers represent the c-store core customer segment at 51 percent of buyers.

NPD said the average units purchased per visit per buyer totaled 3.3, which was flat compared to year ago. The percent of customers who bought a specific product remained somewhat steady for most categories, although purchases for items such as lottery tickets, cigarettes, and candy and gum saw growth in the quarter.