CHICAGO – During the first quarter of 2014, a combination of bad weather and escalating gas prices are being blamed for less visits to convenience stores, according to The NPD Group research. Incoming convenience store traffic slipped 3.5 percent in the first three months of the year vs. the same period last year.

But consumers who did visit convenience stores in the winter purchased slightly more (1.4 percentage points) products and fuel than in the same year-ago quarter, according to NPD’s Convenience Store Monitor, which continually tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of approximately 50,000 convenience store shoppers in the US. And loyalty was also a benefactor of the severe winter weather, which discouraged consumers from making more than one stops.

Q1 2014 experienced a 2.2 percentage-point increase in consumers who said they typically visit one convenience store; multi-chain user visits declined by 2.6 percentage points. Nine percent of consumers, 2 percentage points more than same quarter last year, chose convenience store chains thanks to a rewards or loyalty program.

The importance of product selection and quality was also apparent in the early months of the year, the study relays. There was a 3.4 percentage point increase in consumers choosing a convenience store chain based on its product selection plus a 1.6 percentage point increase in selecting a chain based on its product quality. On-site food preparation also increased2.4 percentage points as a reason to visit a specific convenience store chain.

“Aside from the adverse effects of the weather on traffic, the first quarter shed light on the continuing importance of loyalty, product selection and quality, and foodservice to convenience store consumers,” said April Moffa, NPD convenience store industry analyst. “Time will tell in the quarters ahead whether or not visits will improve.”