Cover Story: 2015 Mystery Shop Data

C-stores bring it! Embrace of foodservice sends scores soaring

Another year, another record-high average score for the chains studied in the CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop.

In 2012, the average overall score for mystery-shop participants was 85.2%. In 2013, that average jumped to 90.8%. It was 91.9% in 2014. The 2015 average rose to 92.5%.

The reason is hardly a mystery. As foodservice becomes a tenet of the industry, the channel must up its game to compete not just with other c-stores, but also the wider net of competitors for foodservice dollars. This means an overall improved customer experience, whether it’s the attractiveness of sandwiches, the cleanliness of the restrooms or the state of trash cans at the pumps.

And this year’s retailers did just that, improving on 2014’s high scores:

  • Exterior cleanliness: 94.8% average score, compared to 92.7% in 2014
  • General interior: 92.2% vs. 90.9%
  • Restrooms: 93.9% vs 91.5%

(It is worth noting that many of the chains in the mystery shop change year over year.)

When it came to excelling in the individual categories, retailers really excelled. From KwikTrip’s 98.6% exterior-cleanliness score to Cumberland Farms’ 97.8% sandwich-cooler average, near-perfect ratings showed up for a number of retailers. Both Cumberland, last year’s winner, and QuikTrip earned 100% in the employee section.

Ask any retailer about the importance of excellence in a given section and the answer will likely lead back to the obvious: foodservice.

“When you go out to eat and the floor isn’t clean, or you go into the restroom and the restroom is not clean, or the outside’s not clean, your perception may be: How clean is the kitchen? How good is the food?” says Don Zietlow, CEO of Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis., which finished second overall thanks to a strong performance in restrooms and exterior cleanliness. “That’s important to me. And it’s also a source of pride with our co-workers.”

For others, there were more sources of pride. “A clean and attractive coffee area is very important to [our] business,” says senior communications manager Ashleigh Womack of RaceTrac’s leading 97.6% coffee score. “Not only does it reinforce that our coffee offering is high-quality, but that positive halo extends to our overall food offer.”

It’s one thing for senior management to understand this. But to succeed day by day, store by store, this sentiment must resonate with store-level employees.

“We have to be able to go out there every day and ... work with them, and show them we’re good at the hows and whats,” says Ian Johnstone, general manager of Cenex Zip Trip, Spokane, Wash., which garnered a 94.5% overall score. “We’ve got to be better at the whys: why it’s important to make sure these things are done correctly, whether it’s the food bar, the temperature of the hot dogs, making sure the bathroom is stocked 100%.

“From top to bottom, our role is to have ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop Results

The 2015 Mystery Shop audits were conducted from April 22, 2015, to May 27, 2015. These audits took place between 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., any day of the week. Following each visit, mystery shoppers completed a survey in which each response received equal value. Here are the chains that were shopped and how often each chain was visited during the course of the mystery shop.

Overall Brand Performance

In the most competitive, high-scoring mystery shop to date, QuikTrip took top honors, edging out Kwik Trip by two-tenths of a point.

Brand Overall score
QuikTrip 96.1%
Kwik Trip 95.9%
Cumberland Farms 95.1%
RaceTrac 94.8%
Cenex Zip Trip 94.5%


Brands Shopped

Brand Number of shops
7-Eleven/Alon 98
Cenex Zip Trip 63
Chevron 104
Cumberland Farms 105
Kwik Trip 105
Mapco 84
Maverik 92
QuickChek 91
QuikTrip 103
RaceTrac 105