Costco Most Popular Place to Buy Gasoline, Study Says

Wholesale clubs continue to lure customers to their pumps, according to Market Force

BOULDER, Colo. -- Costco is where North America prefers to fill their gas tanks, according to a new study by Market Force Information, a provider of customer intelligence solutions. Wholesale clubs once again beat out traditional gas stations in popularity in the survey, with Sam's Club coming in second behind Costco among the more than 7,600 study participants. QuikTrip, Wawa and RaceTrac also had strong showings in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively. Costco also ranked No. 1 in Market Force's 2012 gas station study.

Market Force designed the study to uncover which stations consumers frequent the most, as well as why they choose one over another. It first calculated the rankings based on total votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a weighted view of the results. Of the 53 chains studied, Shell initially amassed the highest number of votes, which can be attributed to the fact that it has more than 10,000 locations in North America; however, when viewed as a calculation of votes per location, Costco ranked first (see graph 1 under File Attachments below).

With their low prices and convenient gasoline pumps, grocers and wholesale clubs are continuing to take market share from national gasoline retailers. When asked where they most frequently fuel their cars, less than half (49%) said they go to a national gas station chain, and 21% said they visit a local station. Meanwhile, nearly one-third (30%) said they most frequently fuel up at either a grocery store or wholesale club (see Places Where Consumers Fuel Most Frequently under File Attachments below).

This is on par with the 2012 gas station survey by Market Force when 32% said they fill up most often at a grocery store or wholesale club.

When Market Force analyzed the results across four U.S. regions, Costco remained in the top spot in the West, garnering 17% of the votes, while ARCO/ampm came in second with 11%, and Chevron and Shell tied for third with 9%. Speedway was a clear winner in the Midwest with 15%, followed by BP (9%) and Shell (8%). In the South, Shell earned 13% of the votes, with Walmart ranking second (11%) and Kroger in third (10%). In the Northeast, Sunoco dominated with 12%, followed by Hess/Hess Express and Shell (tying for second with 8% of the votes), and Exxon Mobil in third with 7%.

For most gas station visitors, it's all about location, location, location, said Market Force. Convenience is the factor that consumers said they like most about their preferred station--in fact, it ranked slightly higher than fuel prices, which was second on the list. Other important factors included ease of entry and exit, a feeling of safety and cleanliness. Features such as environmental consciousness and car wash promotions were lower on the list(see graph 2 under File Attachments below).

"It's no surprise to fuel brands that consumers care most about price and convenience, but what this research also points to is that consumers also make decisions based on the service they receive at their favorite locations," said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. "Cleanliness, friendliness, amenities--they all matter."

Market Force also wanted to find out how each chain fared individually in the five areas that consumers indicated matter most to them, and what drives them to frequent one gas station over another. When it analyzed the leading chains according to the top five attributes (convenient location, fuel price, ease of entry and exit, feeling of safety and cleanliness), QuikTrip and Costco snagged first and second place in nearly every area. Casey's General Store took the top spot for convenient location and second place for ease of entry and exit, while Sam's Club was second in highly important fuel price category. Phillips 66 was among the top three for feeling of safety, and RaceTrac performed consistently well across the board (see graph 3 under File Attachments below).

The survey also looked at nine other attributes--from fuel promotions to friendliness of fuel assistants to curb apparel--and asked consumers to rank the gas stations on those customer experience variables. QuikTrip again made a strong showing, leading in five of the nine categories. Phillips 66 fared well for the friendliness of its fuel assistant, amenities, car wash promotions and reliable window cleaning materials. Kroger's fuel promotions were tops in consumers' minds, while Chevron had the best brand reputation and the second best fuel quality, behind QuikTrip (see graphs 4 and 5 under File Attachments below).

"In this survey, we found that nearly half of consumers were either unsatisfied or neutral in regards to their most recent trip to a gas station," said Eden-Harris. "This presents significant opportunity for gas stations to increase their business by delighting their customers on several customer experience variables. Market Force has found that delighted customers are eight times more likely to recommend a business to friends, compared to neutral consumers."

The survey was conducted in April 2013 across the United States and Canada. The pool of 7,633 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 60% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents' ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 52% were men and 48% were women, and nearly half have children at home.

Market Force is a customer intelligence solutions company for multi-location businesses, including major retailers, restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.