Survey Ranks Most Popular Convenience Store Chains

But many c-stores not meeting basic service, cleanliness standards, says Market Force

Market Force (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- QuikTrip is North America's favorite convenience store chain, according to a new study by customer-intelligence firm Market Force Information. It polled more than 5,000 consumers for the study, designed to uncover which convenience stores consumers prefer and why.

For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent convenience store experience and their likelihood to refer that store brand to others. The results were averaged to attain a Composite Loyalty Score. Market Force research has shown that customers who have an exceptional shopping experience (a rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 5) are not only more loyal customers, but also 2.5 times more likely to recommend the place to friends and family.

Of the 83 convenience store chains that Market Force included in the study, QuikTrip ranked highest with 79%, while Wawa was a close second with 74%.

Other regional players such as Sheetz, RaceTrac and Speedway also earned high enough scores to land in the top five, while national brands such as Chevon, BP and 7-Eleven ranked lower on the list.

Tulsa-based QuikTrip has seen accelerated growth in the past two years, including recently opening its 700th location. Its popularity is due, in part, to its focus on offering fresh food, including made-to-order food and drinks. QuikTrip and second-place Wawa have also both developed a reputation for consistent customer service and store cleanliness.

"We're seeing a phenomenon where convenience store brands are expanding their fresh food options as a way to lure new visitors through the door and cultivate loyalty," said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force. "From offering salads and smoothies to take-home pizza and lasagna, regional convenience store chains are making food a priority. It's a logical path to expansion because it draws market share from both quick-service restaurants and grocers offering both gas and on-the-go food options."

In the convenience store sector, many operators believe that price is the only factor driving traffic to a location. Market Force disproved that theory in this research, it said. It found that only 26% of consumers selected price as an attribute that they like most about their favorite convenience store. They ranked service and cleanliness factors much higher on the list, with low prices coming in at No. 7.

The research also showed that the majority of convenience stores are not meeting basic standards of service and cleanliness. This means that there is significant opportunity for convenience store operators to improve the customer experience and impact loyalty by ensuring that they deliver on the basic mechanics of service and cleanliness.

Market Force wanted to understand which convenience store brands are delivering on a spectrum of attributes that impact customer satisfaction, so they asked consumers to rank the chains based on their most recent experience. QuikTrip took the top spot on all service-oriented attributes, including friendly service, fast service, clean bathrooms and clean interior and exterior. Wawa ranked second for customer service and third in the cleanliness categories. Sheetz, RaceTrac and Casey's also performed consistently well across most of the service-related areas.

Food and beverage items, such as coffee and sandwiches, continue to be important differentiators to attract more customers. When Market Force asked consumers to rank convenience store brands on four food and beverage attributes, Wawa earned the highest marks for food quality and coffee quality. Sheetz stood out for its wide food selection, and QuikTrip was a clear leader for its beverage station quality. Casey's and Speedway also made appearances in the top-three rankings.

RaceTrac was the price leader, and Wawa won out for the number of amenities it offers. Speedway was No.1 in the promotions and discounts category, trailed by Sheetz, which ranked in the top three of all of the service attributes. Not surprisingly, some of the larger chains such as Casey's and Chevron performed well in the convenient location category.

Louisville, Colo.-based Market Force conducted the survey in Aug. 2014 across the United States and Canada. The pool of 5,095 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with nearly 62% reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents' ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 75% were women and 25% were men. Approximately 70% are married, and 40% have children at home.

Click here to view the results of CSP's own Mystery Shop survey conducted separately with Service intelligence, or see the August issue of CSP magazine.

Part of CSP's 2014 Convenience Top 101 retailers