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?