LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- Low prices, loyalty programs, cleanliness: Fuel retailers have a general idea about some of the things it takes to attract customers to their pumps. But which brands among convenience stores, big boxes and grocery are hitting the mark the most often?
Market Force has released its latest annual survey of fuel customers, asking them to share which brands they fuel up at most and how often, what factors are most important in their choice and other shopping preferences. The 2018 study was conducted in March with more than 11,500 consumers ages 18 and older, distributed across four U.S. census regions. Forty-eight percent of respondents had a reported household income of less than $50,000 per year, and about 70% of the survey participants were women.
Their responses show the high level of performance for some of the industry’s best-known brands and reveal a few opportunities for all fuel retailers to chase as they attempt to gain more gallons. Some of the more notable survey findings include ...
Most loyal customers
C-store brands with the highest customer loyalty—as measured by the percentage of consumers who said they “almost exclusively” fuel up at that brand’s locations—were Kwik Trip and Cumberland Farms. The remainder of the top five hinted at the power of different drivers in winning fuel purchases: QuikTrip, known for its excellent customer service; Speedway, which has one of the largest and most established loyalty programs in the industry; and Arco, known for its fuel prices.
When examined by their composite loyalty index—an average of the percentage of consumers who were most likely to recommend them and who were satisfied by their experience—the top five brands were:
The big-box brands that consumers are most likely to buy fuel at “almost exclusively” are Costco, Kroger and BJ’s Wholesale Club. When all three were measured by their composite loyalty index, Costco was the clear leader.
The Issaquah, Wash.-based chain led its big-box and grocery competition on six of eight measures: location safety, payment speed, fuel price and fuel quality, fueling area appearance and pump speed.
Top motivating factors
About 40% of consumers said they choose a fueling location by whatever is close when their vehicle’s “empty” light turns on. That said, other factors rank higher in importance by a greater percentage of consumers: Price was the clear leading factor, followed by adequate lighting, form of payment options, fuel quality and ease of getting into and out of the site.
Less important factors included other forecourt services such as car wash or compressed air for filling tires.
Most consumers reported some level of satisfaction with their fueling experience. That said, about one-quarter of fuel customers were dissatisfied with their fueling experience, and another 22% would be unlikely to recommend a brand’s location to a friend or family member.
Wowing customers is a powerful way to win new business, considering that “very satisfied” customers are three times more likely to recommend a brand’s site for fueling than those who are simply “satisfied,” according to Market Force.
More than half of fuel customers were very satisfied with the safety and security aspects of their chosen fueling location, with QuikTrip leading all other brands here.
However, only one-third of consumers were happy with the fuel price or availability of window-cleaning supplies at their chosen fueling location.
“Even though price tends to drive where people fill up, there are a number of other important areas where gas and convenience-store retailers can stand out,” said Brad Christian, chief customer officer for Market Force, Louisville, Colo. “For instance, it’s fully within their control to ensure each of their sites is well-maintained and cleaning supplies are available at the pump. We have found in our modeling work that these and other customer experience attributes can generate as much as a twofold difference in the number of gallons an individual site can sell.”
One-third of c-store and gas-station fueling customers said they purchased an item from the store during their fill-up visit, with snacks or candy (40%) and carbonated soft drinks (37%) the most popular purchases. Certain fuel brands led in their ability to win that in-store purchase: Kwik Trip, Phillips 66, Wawa, Sheetz and QuikTrip ranked among the top.
For big-box and grocery, only 20% of customers said they made a purchase inside the store, with groceries or household supplies (38%), snacks or candy (26%) and bottled water (26%) being the most popular items. BJ’s, Walmart and Costco led in the highest number of fuel customers to make an in-store purchase, although at percentages much lower than their c-store and gas-station competition.