International 2023 C-Store Shopper Insights Survey
The c-store industry grows more competitive as same-store fuel volumes remain below pre-pandemic levels. C-stores are transforming from the petrol station of the past into a mobility and food destination. With all the change and desired transformation, what are c-store shoppers saying?
Online purchasing and Amazon have changed the way consumers make decisions. Publicly available and un-censored customer reviews are now the number #1 resource in making a choice. According to a 2020 stat from Trustpilot, 89% of users read online reviews before buying online.
Online reviews clearly shape and influence customer behavior and significantly impact profitability. Customers are willing to spend 31% more on a business with excellent reviews. Only 9% of consumers would consider engaging with a business that had a 1- or 2-star rating. CAF’s study seeks to understand why c-store shoppers give a 5-star or 1-star review by analyzing thousands of Google Reviews.
2023 Study Summary
CAF Outdoor Cleaning completed our fourth deep dive analysis into online google ratings across Europe to better understand what customers care about. Specifically, the study analyzed 1,956 customer reviews across 18 top-rated convenience chains in 21 different European countries. To gain the most insight, 5-star and 1-star ratings were selected to identify what customers raved or raged about.
The Average C-store Customer Experience is Down. Over the last decade, online ratings and mystery shop scores have increased year over year due to improved competition and standards. CAF 2022 Europe Google Review study shows average scores declined 5% since last year, while the average quantity of review per location nearly doubled showing increased importance and reach on online ratings. 2023 data shows the average score has stayed down from 2021.
While ratings continue to be mostly positive (68%), the results represent a 11.4% decline since 2021.
The average rating across all locations stayed flat in 2023 after a decrease in 2022 from 4.2 to 3.9 (5% decline), signaling a definite slide in customer experience standards. Limited onsite visibility from leadership and continued labor difficulties are likely causes for the decline. This provides an excellent opportunity for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition as the importance of the Customer Experience is at an all-time high.
The need for a clean and inviting store is at an all-time high with recent NACS data showing that Customer Experience Tops Price. The report shows that 74% of drivers would drive five minutes out of their way to go to a c-store with a better experience. This is the first time in this annual survey where experience has topped price in importance.
Convenience and Petroleum / Fuel Consumer Priorities
Beyond the 5-star rating, many customers leave feedback with their score giving insights into what the customer loved or hated about their experience.
Shoppers most commonly cited Friendly as the reason for a positive 5-star review. Food & Drink Options took the #2 and #4 spots for importance. Cleanliness ranked #3 with nearly a quarter (24%) of shoppers giving a 5-star review raving about the level of cleanliness. This mirrors US data from Gasbuddy citing that cleanliness ranks highest in reason for selecting a pit stop when looking at what factor is most often cited in the top 3. Interestingly, Low Fuel Price, came in as the 5th most often cited reason for a 5-star review at 11% of reviews.
Unhappy 1-star reviews also mentioned the inverse of those Top 5 Positive Reasons. Dirty, High Fuel Price and Unfriendly all continue to drive negative feedback. Although not a top reason for a positive experience - Bad Bathrooms and Speed both joined the list of reasons for a poor experience. It is difficult to “win” business with bathrooms and speed, but according to the results it’s a common reason for a negative experience.
Where Does the Customer Experience Start?
NACS research data shows that more than half of c-store shoppers never go inside the store, making the forecourt experience their ONLY experience. For all shoppers, the forecourt and store exterior are the first and last customer impression on EVERY visit. Too often the c-store customer experience starts with a kind greeting when a customer enters the store, when in fact the decision to go into the store was likely made in the forecourt.
With decreasing same store fuel volumes and higher industry fuel margins, the value of added visits is at an all-time high. A recent PDI/Gasbuddy 2023 study shows that locations with above-average cleanliness ratings receive an 8% increase in foot traffic over below-average nearby competitors.
Summary and Recommendations
Customers value the basics of friendly customer service and a clean environment. Take a moment to look at the online ratings for your site(s). What are the common reasons listed for your 5-star reviews? Can your negative reviews provide actionable insights?
If only maintaining a clean and friendly store was as easy as it sounds. Convenience retailing is difficult and takes the right tools and partners. We invite you to reach out today to learn about how CAF can help introduce a forecourt cleaning program that will drive traffic and positive reviews. Let us share with you best practices and lessons gained from working with 35,000 retail locations worldwide to be your customer experience and cleaning partner.
Check out the European 2022 C-Store Shopper Insights Survey and more information on our blog.