From the most frequented c-stores to the fresh food quality, Market Force evaluated customer perceptions and preferences in its annual survey.
QuikTrip and Costco are consumers’ favorite places to fill their gas tanks, according to a new study by Market Force Information (Market Force). More than 11,000 consumers participated in the annual study, which ranks gas stations in two categories—traditional gas stations and convenience stores, and grocery stores and big-box retailers with gas pumps. The study also reveals trends in food, technology and customer loyalty.
Despite the fact that price is the main driver for selecting a place to fuel, Market Force found that most motorists continue to fill up at conventional gas stations vs. warehouse clubs or grocery store pumps, even though the latter tend to offer a lower price per gallon, particularly when combined with loyalty rewards. For their most recent trip to the pump, 71% of drivers visited a gas station compared to 29% who visited a grocer, warehouse club or big-box retailer. Other key influencers in choosing a fueling stop are good lighting, fuel quality and payment options.
QuikTrip is No. 1 Among Gas Stations and C-Stores
Of the gas station and convenience store brands studied, QuikTrip ranks as America’s favorite, overtaking similarly named Kwik Trip, which fell four spots to fifth place. Cumberland Farms – which didn’t earn enough votes in 2016 to make the list – ranked second, while Sheetz moved up this year to rank third and Wawa dropped one place to fourth. Casey’s General Stores and Marathon Oil each gained eight percentage points this year, and Phillips 66 is again the highest-ranking national gas station brand
Oklahoma-based QuikTrip (QT) operates hundreds of convenience stores in the Midwest, South and Southeast. It’s known for its robust training process and loyal employees, as well as clean facilities, plenty of on-site lighting and an array of fresh food items.
Murphy Wins on Price, QuikTrip on Fuel Quality
Market Force also evaluated how well fuel brands deliver on a spectrum of attributes. Murphy was the price-leader for the second consecutive year, placing ahead of Cumberland Farms and Wawa. Kwik Trip tied with QuikTrip for cashier service and received high marks for appearance. QuikTrip dominated many of the other categories, ranking first in key areas such as fuel quality, merchandise selection, pump speed, ease of getting in and out, appearance of fueling area and availability of cleaning supplies.
“We’re seeing huge spreads in many of these categories, and several are areas that could be better managed by the individual locations,” said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force. “For instance, having a crisp, well-maintained site and making sure the fueling area has squeegees makes a difference to attracting and keeping customers in this very competitive space. Price matters—but so does image.”
Convenience Stores Feed Demand for Fresh Food
By offering everything from fresh salads to made-to-order sandwiches, convenience stores are luring hungry motorists and giving quick-service restaurants a run for their money. Market Force found that 21% of respondents bought a fresh food item during their last visit to a convenience store and 86% were satisfied with the quality. Kwik Trip and Wawa led in fresh food purchases, although QuikTrip’s customers were most satisfied with their food quality.
Even though fresh foods are growing in popularity, most people are still buying the basics when they visit a gas station or convenience store. Of the 30% of customers who purchased an additional item, most picked up non-alcoholic drinks, snacks and coffee. Phillips 66 and Kwik Trip had the most retail purchases of the brands studied.
What else are customers taking advantage of when they visit a gas station or convenience store? During their most recent visit, 14% used the restroom, 5% put air in their tires and just 3% took advantage of the car wash.
Costco Reinstated as Fueling Favorite Among Grocers, Big-Box Retailers
In the grocery and big-box category, Costco overtook the No. 1 spot from BJ’s Wholesale Club (an honor Costco gave up in 2016 after placing first in 2015) with a sizeable lead. Sam’s Club ranked second, BJ’s and Kroger tied for third, Walmart was fourth and Safeway snagged fifth place.
Costco Has Best Prices, But Hard to Enter/Exit
When Market Force looked at the attributes that drive customer satisfaction, Costco led in most of them, although it tied for last with Safeway for ease of getting in and out, and was dead last for cleaning supply availability. Sam’s Club and Walmart tied for ease of getting in and out, and Sam’s Club ranked second to Costco for fuel quality, price, pump speed and appearance. The grocery chains had the lowest marks for payment authorization speed, likely due to the extra time required to process loyalty cards at the pump.
Only 19% said they made an additional retail purchase when they last filled up at a grocer or big-box store, and, of those, most purchased from BJ’s.
Motorists Tapping Into Apps to Find Cheap Gas
Gas and convenience store mobile app usage continues to rise steadily, with 13% saying they’ve used one, up from 10% in 2016. GasBuddy, which uses crowdsourcing to find the cheapest gas prices in an area, is by far the most popular app (cited by 58%). However, retailers’ branded apps are gaining steam, with 41% of customers reporting they’ve used one. The most popular app features, in order, include the ability to compare fuel prices, locate gas stations and manage loyalty programs.
Plastic is King in Gas/Convenience
Mobile payments are becoming more widely used in some sectors, but gas and convenience isn’t one of them. Less than 1% of customers used a mobile payment form for their most recent fuel or retail purchase at a gas station or convenience store. A fairly low one in 10 reported using cash, while 77% used either a credit or debit card.
For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent fueling experience, and their likelihood to refer the brand to others on a 1-5 scale. The results were averaged to attain a Composite Loyalty Index score. Only chains that received at least 100 votes and represented at least 2% of votes were included in the study.
The survey was conducted online in February 2017 across the United States. The pool of 11,338 respondents represented a cross-section of the four U.S. census regions. Fifty-two percent reported household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 72% were women and 27% were men.