Costco leads among grocery and big-box retailers, while Cumberland Farms ranks as favorite c-store, edging out Wawa and Kwik Trip, which tied for second place.
Cumberland Farms and Costco are Americans’ favorite fueling stations, according to a new study by Market Force Information (Market Force).
More than 11,500 consumers participated in the annual study, which ranks gas stations in two categories – traditional gas stations and convenience stores, grocery stores and big-box retailers with fuel pumps. The study also reveals trends in food purchases, customer loyalty and technology.
It should be no surprise that fuel price continues to be the most important factor for drivers deciding where to fill their tanks, although good lighting is also a strong consideration, as are payment options, fuel quality and the ease of getting in and out of a location.
Top Places to Fuel Up
Cumberland Farms moved up one spot this year to rank No. 1 out of the gas station and convenience store brands studied. It edged out Wawa and Kwik Trip, which tied for second with 65% each.
Last year’s leader QuikTrip fell to third place, while Sheetz ranked fourth and Phillips 66 ranked fifth. Out of the top 10, QuikTrip, Sheetz and Speedway all lost significant ground, each dropping 8% over last year.
Cumberland Farms operates 600 convenience stores and gas stations on the East Coast. It boasts a number of fresh food items, as well as its own private-label brand of snack and candy items. Cumberland Farms customers are also some of the most loyal – it tied with Kwik Trip as a brand where motorists fuel almost exclusively when given a choice.
Favorites by U.S. Region
The top three chains on the Composite Loyalty Index in each major U.S. region were:
West – Shell, Chevron, 76
Midwest – Kwik Trip, QuikTrip, Speedway
South – Wawa, QuikTrip, RaceTrac
Northeast – Cumberland Farms, Wawa, Speedway
Customer Experience Attributes
Market Force also evaluated how well fuel retailers deliver on a spectrum of customer experience attributes. Murphy led in fuel price for the third straight year, followed by Cumberland Farms and RaceTrac. Phillips 66 ranked highest for fuel quality. QuikTrip was tops in many of the fueling station and in-store categories, such as location safety, appearance and speed of service, and KwikTrip was found to have the friendliest cashiers and best merchandise selection. On the flip side, Arco scored low on all measures except fuel price.
“Even though price tends to drive where people fill up, there are a number of other important areas where gas and convenience store retailers can stand out,” said Brad Christian, chief customer officer for Market Force. “For instance, it’s fully within their control to ensure each of their sites is well maintained and cleaning supplies are available at the pump. We have found in our modeling work that these and other customer experience attributes can generate as much as a two-fold difference in the number of gallons an individual site can sell.”
Customers Filling up on Fresh Sandwiches
Convenience stores continue to offer more healthy, fresh and made-to-order items in an attempt to sell customers lunch, not just gas. In fact, of the 21% who grabbed a fresh-food item during their last visit, 35% bought a sandwich, 20% bought a hot dog and 19% opted for pizza. Casey’s General Store was the most popular for fresh food purchases, although Wawa had the highest fresh food satisfaction scores. This comes as little surprise, given that Wawa ranked No. 1 in the sandwich category of Market Force’s recent quick-service restaurant study.
Costco A Fueling Favorite
In the grocery and big-box category, Costco took the top spot for the second straight year. With a 71% score, it ranked significantly higher than Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club, which tied for second with 61% each. Kroger was third, Walmart was fourth and Safeway ranked a distant fifth after it’s score dropped 13% over last year.
Consumers often frequent big-box stores and grocers in the hunt for low gas prices, which is an area where Costco ranked first and BJ’s second. Costco was also found to have the best fuel quality, appearance and pumping speeds. Motorists find it easiest to get in and out of Sam’s Club’s and Kroger’s fueling areas.
Gas and convenience store mobile app adoption shows no signs of slowing down. Twenty percent said they’ve used one, double the 10% who reported doing so in 2016. GasBuddy, which allows motorists to search for gas prices, is still the most popular app. However, this year, slightly more people reported that they’re using apps to locate gas stations rather than just to compare prices. This shift might partly explain why the adoption of retail-branded apps has grown significantly, up 14% over 2016.
When it comes to paying for their fuel, most motorists are swiping their cards or inserting them into chip readers, while 10% use cash and a negligible 1% make mobile payments. Market Force also found 30% are worried about security when paying with a method other than cash and, of those, 89% are concerned about card skimming devices, followed by the lack of a chip reader.
For the rankings, Market Force asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their most recent fueling experience, and their likelihood to refer the brand to others on a 1-5 scale. The results were averaged to attain a Composite Loyalty Index score. Only chains that received at least 100 consumer responses and represented at least 2% of responses were included in the study.
The survey was conducted online in March 2018 across the United States. The pool of 11,514 respondents represented a cross-section of the four U.S. census regions. Fifty-two percent reported household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65. Approximately 70% were women and 29% were men.