12 Insights Into Execution From the 2017 Mystery Shop

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

2017 Mystery Shop

CHICAGO -- The results of the latest CSP/Intouch Insight Mystery Shop are in, finding 11 top retailers focused on creating five-star experiences and operations. The power of the mystery shop isn't just in the data, however; it's also in how the participants got those numbers.

Here are a dozen insights into store execution …

1. What gets measured gets done

This year’s overall mystery-shop winner, York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores, received perfect scores in several areas, including cleanliness at the pump area and the store's exterior. Commenting on one Rutter’s, a mystery shopper said, “The store was exceptionally clean, considering it was along a major highway.”

The brand follows a cleaning task list for store interiors and exteriors broken down by shift and employee. Once the team member completes all tasks on the list, they sign the task sheet. “When the manager … finds an issue, they can hold that employee accountable,” said Vice President of Operations Jere Matthews. “It’s a good teaching moment.”

2. Make it easy to monitor

Kwik Trip iPad

Kwik Trip, another checklist advocate, has converted its paper-based cleaning checklists to electronic versions accessible via iPads over the past year. “It’s all online, so the district leader can pull it up to make sure store employees are completing it properly,” said Greg Olson, head of retail operations for the La Crosse, Wis.-based chain.

3. Enlist customer help

Rutter’s has buttons in its restrooms that customers can activate if there is an issue; the chain also monitors social media and its mobile app for customer feedback on cleanliness.

“These are passive means that are not confrontational, but I think customers are much more willing to engage through those mediums to share feedback, whether it’s good or bad,” said Chief Customer Officer Derek Gaskins. A top-three scorer in restroom cleanliness, Rutter’s earned a score of 96.7%.

4. Make customers feel at home

United Pacific also received a high score for bathroom cleanliness. “It is very bright and is very clean,” said one shopper of the brand. “It did not remind me of a restroom in a gas station but more like a bathroom in a home.”

All of the brands studied, including Long Beach, Calif.-based United Pacific, received higher scores for their restrooms being well-stocked (they average 99%) than for cleanliness (average of 89.2%). This may be because cleanliness is more subjective than the presence of toilet tissue and paper towels.

5. Own the coffee basics

“Everything was clean, well-stocked and appealing,” said one shopper at Atlanta-based RaceTrac, which earned an above-average 95.8% score for cleanliness in the coffee area. “I would think nothing of getting coffee at this location. I did and it was fresh, hot and pleasing.”

As they did on their restroom scores, each of the chains did better at having a fully stocked coffee area than in the area’s cleanliness. In fact, none of the brands received less than 98% for how well their hot beverages are stocked.

6. Accept your limitations

Rotten Robbie received a 100% on the fountain category, but it scored below average in the presence and promotion of combo deals. That’s because it does not have a big foodservice focus.

“Because there are lots of good, stand-alone foodservice options, and the fact that we don’t have large properties, I think we’re always going to be below average compared to some other areas in that category,” said Tom Robinson, president of Robinson Oil Corp., Santa Clara, Calif. “We are definitely a more fuels-dependent region.”

7. There’s room for improvement

One area in which the mystery-shop retailers have room for improvement: keeping coolers at the right temperature. Dairy coolers were within the recommended temperature range at about 92% of visits. “If you’re sitting at 97%, 98%, we could debate whether we’re good enough, but when we’re sitting at 92%—I don’t think there could be debate that’s good enough when it comes to food safety,” said Cameron Watt, president and CEO of Intouch Insight, which partnered with CSP on the mystery shop. 

8. Dress for success

Employee appearance is a critical element of QuikTrip’s operation. “For us, the red shirt with the QuikTrip on front is a matter of personal pride,” says Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for the brand, who reached 100% for all on-duty employees wearing uniforms and nametags. Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip even has extra red shirts and khaki pants available in the stores in case employees need another set to change into.

9. Be smart about selling

Suggestive selling is not a popular practice at the chains participating in the mystery shop. In fact, the overall score for all 11 brands was just 17.8%. Many brands discourage it, concerned it will slow down service and annoy customers. But Watt disagreed: “The concept of suggestive selling doesn’t make people upset or slow them down if it’s strategic, relevant and it’s right there.”

Don’t: Ask everyone, every day whether they’d like to buy a candy bar.

Do: Ask customers if they would like to buy a lottery ticket if the jackpot has hit $100 million.

10. Kindness counts

“Lacey was upbeat and outgoing,” said a shopper at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go. “She smiled often and made great eye contact. I appreciate her asking if I was a rewards member.” The brand earned high scores for both courteous cashiers and those that seem happy to serve.

11. Know your competition

“If you start with the premise ‘We don’t want to suggestive sell but compete with QSRs for share of stomach,’ having combo deals and having them well-articulated on POS and easy-to-view signage makes sense,” said Watt of Intouch Insight. “Effectively, you’re doing an upsell without having to talk to anybody.”

12. Keep guidelines in line with the times

Kwik Trip, with a 98.8% score for well-groomed cashiers, has clear appearance guidelines for team members. “Our leadership in stores have a standard; they know how they want the team to look,” Olson said. That said, the chain is not afraid to tweak its standards to keep up with modern times. “We used to have a very restrictive tattoo policy,” he said. “We realized you can’t do that. A lot of people who are great have tattoos.”

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