BOSTON – About half (49.5%) of consumers spent five minutes or less at every convenience-store or gas-station visit in 2018, according to mobile app GasBuddy’s recent analysis of foot traffic in the c-store industry. Consumers shopped at these locations at all hours of the day, with the two busiest hours being Fridays at noon and 5 p.m., said the report.
GasBuddy’s study examined more than 20 million consumer visits to more than 100 fuel and convenience retailers between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2018, to convey behavioral shifts that drive foot traffic. To be considered a “visit,” a consumer must have been within 30 meters of a fuel pump for two to 30 minutes.
- Click here to read GasBuddy’s third-quarter 2018 foot-traffic insights.
GasBuddy gives each store a footfall ratio, which equals average footfall per location over average footfall for the industry. A brand on par with the industry average would have a ratio of 1.0. It splits the rankings into four subcategories based on store count, including 1,000 locations or more, 250 to 999 locations, 50 to 249 locations and 30 to 49 locations.
“It is now confirmed that filling up at Costco on a Friday afternoon is the worst idea ever unless you enjoy waiting in line,” said Frank Beard, c-store and retail trends analyst for GasBuddy, Boston. “While it’s not shocking that Thanksgiving and Christmas had their share of increased retail visits, Memorial Day weekend saw the highest uplift in foot traffic across all categories, including hotels, auto rental, restaurants and coffee shops, making it the best opportunity for retailers to excite customers with promotions and meaningful in-store experiences.”
Here are five foot-traffic insights from GasBuddy’s 2018 year in review …
With a footfall ratio of 2.61, Speedway finished atop the rankings for stores with at least 1,000 locations for the second straight year. Arco and Circle K placed second and third with ratios of 2.01 and 1.65, respectively.
Costco once again dominated the rankings for brands with 250 to 999 locations. The warehouse club garnered a footfall ratio of 5.30, the highest of any brand in any category throughout the year, bolstering its previous ratio of 4.74. Trailing Costco were Pilot and Kroger, which amassed ratios of 3.55 and 3.53, respectively.
Ricker's took top honors for stores with 30 to 49 locations with a ratio of 4.13. The c-store chain was followed by Buc-ee’s and Lassus Handy Dandy, which finished with ratios of 3.26 and 2.61, respectively.
Rankings by state
For the second year in a row, Wawa and Pilot both had the highest footfall ratio in five states, the most of any c-stores or gas stations in any category. Cumberland Farms and Costco once again tied for second place, each claiming the highest footfall in four states, while Speedway and Kroger had the highest footfall ratio in three states.
We know the busiest hours were noon and 5 p.m. on Fridays, but what about for the other six days of the week? The five-hour span between noon and 5 p.m. was also the most popular time frame for c-store and gas station visits for every day of the week, with each hour claiming nearly 8% of visits. No other hour hit even 7%.
On the contrary, 8 a.m. remained the slowest time of the day Monday through Friday.
Customer service remains essential
Customer service ratings were once again a crucial element of foot traffic. In 2018, c-stores and gas stations with above-average customer service ratings captured 25% more visits than those with below-average customer experience ratings, according to the report. While most reviews for food, fuel pumps and other store features remained neutral, fewer than 5% of customer service reviews were neutral. Instead, more than 35% of them were negative, making it vital for retailers to pay attention to monitor customer feedback.
“When specific sites fall below brand standards, quick corrective action can be taken before reputations are damaged and customers lost,” the report said.
Holiday trips were apparent
Consumer road trips during the winter holiday season led to changes in food traffic. GasBuddy analyzed the pit stops for long-distance travelers—those who traveled 400 miles or more—and which brands experienced the most uplift during holiday weekends. At 48%, Sheetz saw the biggest increase in traffic during Thanksgiving, while Wawa led during Christmas with 39% more traffic than usual.