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Consumer Preferences: From Forecourt to Backcourt

New CSP/GasBuddy survey reveals the key motivators for women, men and 18- to 34-year-olds

BOSTON -- One in four visits: That’s how often most customers go into the c-store when fueling up their vehicle.

This figure, from CSP’s latest survey of fuel consumers conducted in partnership with GasBuddy, is likely not surprising to most retailers. And yet it’s a figure that has surprisingly, stubbornly refused to budge much, despite the industry’s growing foodservice prowess, bigger stores and more potent technological toolkit.

Consumers’ most common reason for not entering the store? There’s no need, according to three-quarters of survey participants. The next two most popular reasons: Consumers believe items inside the store are too expensive (39%), and they don’t have time (24%).

The focus on time is especially concerning—the perception of a convenience-store visit that is not actually convenient.

What Keeps Consumers Outside

The fifth most common reason among survey participants overall for not entering the store was also time-sensitive: They felt the checkout process would take too long.

Break responses down by age group and the importance of time to 18- to 34-year-olds is clear. This group was nearly 10 points more likely to cite “Don’t have enough time” as a reason not to visit the store compared to survey participants overall. It’s a fatal flaw for any retail channel competing with Amazon and other online disruptors for consumers’ loyalty and money. And as c-stores grow in size and product offer, it’s a challenge that will become even more complex.

“Convenience retailers must maintain their reputation for speed, efficiency and, yes, convenience,” says Frank Beard, analyst for convenience-store trends for Boston-based GasBuddy. “As retailers continue expanding their in-store offer, this raises the threat of larger crowds and longer lines; and as they continue looking to loyalty programs to build repeat business, this can increase the number of questions and pain points at the register.”

To better understand the elements that persuade—and discourage—fuel consumers from entering the c-store, GasBuddy collected more than 15,000 responses from June 28 to July 2 from users of its fuel price and c-store information app via an in-app challenge. Beyond the importance of delivering a convenient shopping experience, the survey also revealed interesting differences between age groups and genders on how they prioritize factors such as cleanliness, promotions and healthy food options.

“Convenience retailers must maintain their reputation for speed, efficiency and, yes, convenience.”

Top 5 Store Visit Spoilers

Eighteen- to 34-year-olds were more likely than survey participants overall to cite time, the lack of healthy food options and store cleanliness as reasons not to enter the c-store.

The Case for Cleanliness

It’s more important than family or friends’ opinions or the brand’s reputation. A store’s appearance—as defined by how well it is maintained, lighted and cleaned—is the most influential factor in convincing a fuel customer to enter.

Among the frequent c-store visitors—those who entered the store on at least half of their fueling visits—more than 82% said store design and upkeep influenced their opinion of the store either moderately or strongly. Lighting, which communicates safety, and cleanliness of the fuel island tied at 79.7%.

For frequent female c-store visitors, lighting is especially important. Female survey participants considered it having a “strong” influence on their decision to enter the store at a greater than 10-point margin compared to men.

“This means retailers cannot afford to have dirty and messy forecourts, visually unappealing or deteriorating stores and low-quality lighting,” Beard says. “These elements set the stage for the rest of the customer experience.”

Top 5 Store Visit Influencers

The Restroom Factor

By an 8-point margin, female fuel customers, said they would probably or definitely be influenced to visit a store if it promoted its clean restrooms. Women were also nearly 10 points more likely than men to say they were so turned off by a c-store’s bathroom that they decided to cut their visit short and go to another store to use its facilities. The biggest turn-offs for all customers: dirty restrooms, followed by outdated or poorly kept facilities. Women were especially leery of outdoor restrooms.

51.7% vs. 39.4%
Female vs. male frequent c-store shoppers who said “quality of lighting” had a strong influence on their opinion of a c-store before entering

Would you be influenced to visit a store if it promoted a commitment to clean, quality restrooms?

The Mobile Connection

Retailers have a few precious minutes to grab the attention of customers at the pumps, but according to the GasBuddy survey, some media are more effective than others at gaining it.

More than 46% of fuel customers often or always read promotional signage on the forecourt, compared to 24% who likely tune in to TV programming.

While many customers claim not to look at their mobile phone during the fueling process, those who are 18 to 34 years old are likely to be glued to those little screens: By a more than 18-point margin, this group says they often or always look at their phone during the fill-up.

Where it is available, do you watch TV programming at the fuel pumps?

How often do you look at your mobile phone while refueling?

Reward Time

When asked which mobile-phone promotions were most influential on their decision to visit a c-store, 18- to 34-year-olds were nearly 10 points more likely than all respondents to be strongly influenced by fuel loyalty rewards. Women were 10 points more likely than men to consider loyalty rewards or redeemable coupons as strong influencers.

Top 3 Promotions

Health Sells

The relationship between fuel and food is a tricky one. Case in point: Fifty-nine percent of GasBuddy survey participants said they would be somewhat or very unlikely to go into a c-store that promoted food and beverage at the fuel pumps.

Eighteen- to 34-year-olds were more open to influence, with nearly 41% somewhat or very likely to go into a store that advertised food options on the forecourt, compared to 31.3% of all participants.

Healthy food can be a draw for some customer groups. While 36% of respondents overall said they were more or much more likely to be influenced by signage promoting healthy options, 43.7% of 18- to 34-year-olds said the same. Meanwhile, female customers outpaced males by a 12-point margin when asked if such signage would encourage a c-store visit.

“As retailers look for ways to attract nontraditional customers into the store, they should consider promoting the full range of their products—including healthy, fresh and better-for-you,” Beard says. “Otherwise, customers may assume there is nothing inside the store that appeals to them.”

If a c-store regularly offered samples of prepared food and beverages, would that influence your visit?

Sample This

Sampling can be a powerful lure into the c-store for fuel customers, especially if they are female and/or younger. Both groups were more likely than survey participants overall to say samples of prepared food and beverages would “probably” or “definitely” influence their visit decision. For 18- to 34-year-olds, the difference is especially stark, with nearly 62% influenced by samples, compared to 48.2% overall.

How likely would you be to go into a c-store if signage near the fuel pumps showcased food and beverage options?

Source: GasBuddy

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