CHICAGO -- In the days of ever-increasing competition from dollar stores, hypermarkets and the burgeoning digital disruptors, c-stores must hold onto what separates them from the pack: convenience.
Today, long checkout times, dirty restrooms and empty cooler doors are a recipe for disaster. Meanwhile, the ingredients for success are a combination of consistent in-stocks, friendly staff and, as one retailer put it, a “white glove” level of cleanliness that make customers not only want to return but also to recommend the store to friends.
For 14 years, CSP and Intouch Insight Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario, and Fort Hill, S.C., have conducted an annual mystery shop on 10 volunteer chains. The methodology has evolved over time in response to participant and retailer feedback on the most helpful metrics for measuring operational success. Consider it our recipe for assessing the magic behind convenience.
Create a structure
The CSP/Intouch Insight Mystery Shop begins with an announced, scheduled audit in which store staff are aware an auditor is visiting, along with a separate, true mystery shop, in which an undercover shopper rates staff behavior.
Decide which areas of the store to assess, what to observe or measure and develop a questionnaire. For convenience stores, metrics such as wait times, cleanliness and employee friendliness are critical.
Was the ceiling clean (tile and vents)? Was the restroom(s) properly stocked? Was the temperature of the sandwich cooler between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit? Were you shown any sign of gratitude or given sincere thanks when leaving the store? Did the cashier make you feel like a valued customer?
As the study has evolved, CSP and Intouch Insight have picked a winner after giving more weight (75%) to the revealed audit over the true mystery shop (25%). The program prioritizes physical store-level execution (revealed audits) but still gives weight to how staff relates to customers (mystery shop).
About 1,500 audits and mystery shops led to the results of the 2018 study.
And the winner is …
Revealed-Audit Winner (weighted 75%)
Covert-Shop Winner (weighted 25%)
Would You Recommend the Store to Others?
Intouch Insight researchers valued this question as an indicator of customer satisfaction and ultimately the products and services that define convenience. Unfortunately, this year’s results showed that customers were slightly less pleased with their c-store experience than in 2017.
Click here to read more about the results of this year's mystery shop.
Photograph by Matt Roth