OTTAWA, Ontario — Convenience-store customers have generally had a positive experience during the coronavirus pandemic, but there’s still plenty of work to be done regarding safety and cleanliness, according to a new Intouch Insight’s benchmark mystery-shop program.
Ottawa, Ontario-based Intouch Insights developed the program—which surveys mystery shoppers based off their recent trips to gas stations—to help c-store operators better understand how they can respond to changing consumer demands and future regulatory policies. The study, exclusively shared with CSP, was conducted at 18 convenience-store brands in 29 U.S. states.
“The factors identified as most impactful through this analysis will help you prioritize which actions will have the greatest impact in ensuring your customers are happy with the experience they receive at your establishment,” Intouch Insight said.
Here are some key findings from the study …
Intouch Insight performed a key driver analysis for this study, which examines the factors that have the greatest impact on an organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs). Three KPIs were considered: likelihood to recommend the store, feeling safe while shopping at a given location and satisfaction with the store’s safety measures.
The availability of hand sanitizer and employees using protective equipment were considered the most important across all three KPIs, Intouch Inside said.
“The top 3 key drivers when it comes to feeling safe at a location and being satisfied with the store for ensuring your safety are the same, although they were ranked differently in terms of importance,” it said.
Slightly more than half (57%) of mystery shoppers said they saw staff inside the c-store wearing protective gear, according to the survey. Of that 57%, less than half (47%) said they saw every staff member wearing protective gear, while 20% said they saw some staff wearing protective gear. Nearly 34% said they saw no staff members wearing protective gear.
Forty-one percent of mystery shoppers said they noticed all staff members wearing masks—higher than any other type of equipment, according to the survey. About a quarter (26%) said they saw all staff wearing gloves, while 21% said only some staff members wore gloves, and 12% said they saw some staff members wearing masks.
About 35% of mystery shoppers said that the store they visited limited the number of customers allowed inside at any given time, according to the survey. Additionally, 33% said that there was a safe waiting line area outside the store.
Stores were thoroughly marked: Ninety-one percent of mystery shoppers said that the store they visited had floor markers promoting social distancing, according to the survey. Moreover, 85% said that there was signage communicating the store’s coronavirus-related practices. Social distancing markers were most-often located at full-service cash registers (53%), aisles (22%), foodservice areas (14%), self-serve beverage areas (9%), and self-serve cash registers (3%).
Fewer than half (47%) of mystery shoppers said that hand sanitizer was available for use throughout the store, and only 22% said they saw employees physically cleaning throughout the store, according to the study. Specific sections mystery shoppers noticed being cleaned included self-serve beverage areas (27%), self-serve coffee bars (22%), self-serve food areas (19%), PIN keypads (15%), ATM units (7%) and other areas (24%).
While almost all (97%) mystery shoppers said that store employees were required to touch their loyalty, credit or debit cards during payment, more than three-fourths (76%) said that contactless payment options were available in the store, according to the study. Nearly 65% said that there were protective barriers at the cash registers, as well.
Additionally, nearly all (99%) mystery shoppers said that the restrooms had effective ways to wash their hands, according to the survey. Beyond that, 75% said the restrooms had contactless capabilities. But despite these numbers, less than half (44%) said they couldn’t exit the restroom without touching the doorknob with their just-washed hands.
Overall safety rating
Although nearly all (98%) mystery shoppers said store employees were polite and courteous, the safety scores could improve. When asked to rate the safety level of the store compared to other retailers on a scale from 1 to 10, the average score was 7.5. Moreover, when mystery shoppers were asked how satisfied they were with the safety actions taken by said store on the same scale, the average score was 7.2.