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BOULDER, Colo. -- Wholesale clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club were once again voted the most popular places to gas up in a consumer study by Market Force. This is the second consecutive year that wholesale clubs have beat out traditional gas stations in this study.
According to the research, which is designed to uncover which gas stations consumers frequent most often and why they choose one over another, Costco is where North American motorists prefer to fill their gas tanks, with Sam’s Club coming in second among the more than 7,600 study participants. Costco ranked No. 1 in last year's Market Force gas station study as well.
QuikTrip Corp., Wawa Inc. and RaceTrac Petroleum also turned in strong showings in this year's study, earning third, fourth and fifth places, respectively. QuikTrip was recently voted the most popular convenience store in a Market Force study on convenience store chains.
To come up with the order, Market Force calculated the rankings based on total votes, and then factored in the number of locations for each chain for a weighted view of the results. Of the 53 chains studied, Shell initially amassed the highest number of votes, which can be attributed to the fact that it has more than 10,000 locations in North America. However, when viewed as a calculation of votes per location, Costco ranked No. 1.
Wholesale clubs and grocers are continuing to take market share from national gas retailers due to their low fuel prices and convenient gas pumps, according to Market Force. When asked where they most frequently fuel their cars, less than half of the study's respondents (49 percent) said they go to a national gas station chain, while 21 percent said they visit a local gas station. Meanwhile, nearly one-third (30 percent) said they most frequently fuel up at either a grocery store or wholesale club. This is on par with the 2012 study when 32 percent said they fill up most often at a grocery store or wholesale club.
When the results were analyzed by U.S. region, Costco remained in the top spot in the West, garnering 17 percent of the votes, while ARCO/ampm came in second at 11 percent, and Chevron and Shell tied for third at 9 percent. In the Midwest, Speedway was the clear winner with 15 percent, followed by BP at 9 percent and Shell at 8 percent. In the South, Shell earned 13 percent of the votes, with Walmart ranking second at 11 percent and Kroger in third at 10 percent. In the Northeast, Sunoco dominated with 12 percent of the votes, followed by Hess/Hess Express and Shell tying for second with 8 percent of the votes each, and ExxonMobil ranking third at 7 percent.
For most gas station visitors, it’s all about location. Convenience is the factor consumers like most about their preferred gas station – in fact, it ranked slightly higher than fuel prices, which was second. Other important factors include ease of entry and exit; a feeling of safety; and cleanliness. Features such as environmental consciousness and car wash promotions were lower on the list.
“It’s no surprise to fuel brands that consumers care most about price and convenience, but what this research also points to is that consumers also make decisions based on the service they receive at their favorite locations,” said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force, a global customer intelligence solutions company. “Cleanliness, friendliness, amenities -- they all matter.”
Attributes of Importance
As part of the study, Market Force also delved into how each chain fared individually in the five areas that consumers said matter most to them: convenient location, fuel price, ease of entry and exit, feeling of safety, and cleanliness. When it analyzed the leading chains according to these attributes, QuikTrip and Costco snagged first and second place in nearly every area.
Casey’s General Stores Inc. took the top spot for convenient location and second place for ease of entry and exit, while Sam’s Club was second in the fuel price category. Phillips 66 was among the top three for feeling of safety, and RaceTrac performed consistently well across the board.
The survey also looked at nine other attributes – from fuel promotions, to friendliness of fuel assistants, to curb apparel – and asked consumers to rank the gas stations on those customer experience variables. QuikTrip again made a strong showing, leading in five of the nine categories.
Meanwhile, Phillips 66 fared well for the friendliness of its fuel assistants, amenities, car wash promotions and reliable window cleaning materials. Kroger’s fuel promotions were top in consumers’ minds, and Chevron had the best brand reputation and the second best fuel quality behind QuikTrip.
“In this survey, we found that nearly half of consumers were either unsatisfied or neutral in regards to their most recent trip to a gas station,” Eden-Harris noted. “This presents significant opportunity for gas stations to increase their business by delighting their customers on several customer experience variables. Market Force has found that delighted customers are eight times more likely to recommend a business to friends, compared to neutral consumers.”
The Market Force survey was conducted in April across the United States and Canada. The pool of 7,633 respondents reflected a broad spectrum of income levels, with 60 percent reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 a year. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 65-plus. Approximately 52 percent were men and 48 percent were women, and nearly half have children at home.