LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- The top convenience store/gas station choice for fuel consumers is a familiar, admired name, according to Market Force Information’s 2017 study.
The annual online survey asked more than 11,000 consumers to rank gas stations and c-stores, as well as big-box and grocery stores, on their fueling attributes. The top five gas station/c-store brands in the 2017 survey are all privately owned operators, led by QuikTrip Corp., Tulsa, Okla., whose brand ranked second in 2016.
Costco Wholesale Corp., Issaquah, Wash., had the top brand among big-box and grocery stores, after also ranking second in that metric in the 2016 survey.
To create the rankings, Market Force asked consumers to rate their satisfaction with their most recent fueling experience and their likelihood to refer the brand. It then averaged the results to create a Composite Loyalty Index score. Chains had to earn at least 100 votes and represent at least 2% of votes to be included in the study.
As in previous years of the survey, privately owned c-store chains led in most attributes, although some public and major-oil brands shined in certain areas. And there is a key reason for that.
“It is the regional players who command the highest loyalty,” Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer at Market Force Information, Louisville, Colo., told CSP Daily News. “They’re not franchised. They’re corporately owned, so there’s much more control over the way the sites look, the way they are taken care of, the standards they have.”
For more on the top brands and how they scored, read on ...
Favorite gas-station or c-store brands
Three retailers, separated by only one point each, headed up the 2017 ranking of favorite gas station and c-store brands. QuikTrip was tops at 71%, followed by Cumberland Farms, Framingham, Mass. (70%), and Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz (69%). This reflects a gain in rank for QuikTrip, which surpassed last year’s top brand, Kwik Trip, now at No. 5.
While gasoline is a commodity and the price sign has a prominent position on most gas station and c-store lots, consumers’ reasons for preferring a fuel brand can be complex, the Market Force survey found.
“When people are choosing where to gas up, there is an expectation that price drives everything, and that’s just simply not true,” said Flink. While price is the most important factor—chosen by 77% of survey respondents—other aspects of the fueling experience are also powerful drivers, she said. These include everything from good lighting, fuel quality and the availability of different payment options to the fuel island’s appearance, a working PIN pad and fast-flow pumps.
Fueling station attributes
The best brand by fuel price for the second year in a row was El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy USA, whose Murphy USA and Murphy Express sites are located on or near the parking lots of Walmart Supercenters and are known for their aggressive pricing.
QuikTrip led in fuel quality, appearance of the fueling area and the availability of cleaning tools such as windshield-washer squeegees and fluid.
How are consumers perceiving quality? In a variety of ways, based on the top 10 brands. For QuikTrip, it could reflect the brand’s high loyalty and performance on several other fueling attributes.
Meanwhile, several major-oil brands—Chevron, Phillips 66, Conoco, Exxon, Shell and Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Speedway—also ranked within the top 10. And six of the top quality brands are Top Tier certified, meeting a detergent standard set by the major automakers.
QuikTrip led in location safety and security, ease of getting in and out, and pump speed. It ranked a close second to Cumberland Farms in payment-authorization speed.
Privately owned operators dominated in all of these attributes, with QuikTrip, Sheetz, Wawa, Cumberland Farms and Kwik Trip placing toward the top.
The store visit
Among store attributes, QuikTrip and Wawa led on store appearance and merchandise quality and selection. Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis., tied with QuikTrip in cashier service.
What are consumers doing at the site? Of the 30% who bought an item besides fuel, most purchased nonalcohol beverages, snacks and coffee. More than one-fifth bought a fresh food item.
Consumers also frequently used the store’s amenities, with 14% visiting the restroom during their most recent visit. Outside the store, 5% added air to their tires and 3% bought a car wash.
Big box and grocery
Among the survey participants, 71% bought fuel at a gas station and 29% at a big box, warehouse club or supermarket.
Among big-box and grocery players, Costco (74%), Sam’s Club (67%), BJ’s and Kroger (both at 64%) were the top favorite brands. And Costco led on many fueling attributes: location, fuel quality, fuel price, payment authorization speed, the fuel island’s appearance and pump speed.
Nineteen percent of big-box or grocery fuel customers made an additional retail purchase after filling up.
Apps and payment
Of the survey respondents, 13% used a fuel-related mobile app. The most popular were GasBuddy and retailer-branded apps, followed distantly by Waze.
When it comes to payment types, 77% of survey participants used a credit or debit card for their gas station/c-store purchase, while just 10% used cash. Meanwhile, only 1% used mobile payment, such as Apple Pay.
Market Force conducted this latest survey online in February 2017 with 11,338 respondents ages 18 and older in four U.S. census regions. More than half had reported household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. About 72% of participants were women and 27% men. For more information, click here.