Out of the Mouths of Shoppers

New insights on what convenience-store customers appreciate most

EUGENE, Ore. -- Retail design firm King Retail Solutions spent the beginning of 2015 gleaning useful insights out of online convenience-store customer reviews. What it found serves as a reminder of what’s most important to the guest experience.

The firm analyzed the most recent 550 Yelp reviews of 40 top-rated c-stores and chains. Twenty-two cities in the West, Midwest, South and Northeast are represented equally in the data with at least 140 reviews examined for each region.

The report broke down what reviewers appreciated most in the c-stores they wrote about. The most important factor should be no surprise: Friendliness of the staff was mentioned by 43% of reviewers, more than any other positive element. Fresh food options (35%) and low prices (33%) were also frequently praised, as were beverage and food selection, speedy service, well-stocked shelves, loyalty cards and 24-hour service.

Staff friendliness also topped the list of things reviewers most often criticized. Although only 7% of reviewers complained about unfriendly workers, that number was higher than any other complaint, reflecting the importance of customer service for shoppers. High prices and long waits (both 6%) were also frequent topics of criticism in reviews. Other common complaints included long lines, limited selections, broken equipment, poor food quality and bare shelves.

According to Lindsey Muth, director of marketing at King Retail Solutions, Yelp has pros and cons as a data source. “Because the survey was taken from existing public data that the reviewer posted for the purpose of helping others choose which retailers to patronize and which to avoid (and why), we felt confident that those c-store qualities mentioned (be they positive or negative attributes) were things that were top-of-mind for the reviewer and not just something they checked off a pick-list,” Muth said.

But Muth also noted that given the nature of online review sites, there will occasionally be feedback left by someone with personal bias, good or bad. “Luckily, out of the 550 reviews, only a handful were discredited because the reviewer clearly had a non-retailer-related bone to pick,” she said.

The data was pulled both from big chains and independents, which Muth believes adds an extra level of depth. Indies have a lot to learn from successful chains, but the reverse is also true: “If the most popular c-store in a huge city is a little indie market that has a micro-brew growler bar, or leases its back room to a drycleaner and that’s what makes them beloved … then that’s going to be incredibly interesting—not just to other local retailers looking to improve, but to the big guys who have to put a lot more time and research into make operational changes,” Muth said.

BP’s ampm had 90% of reviewers praise their low prices. Meanwhile, New College Hill Market, a local retailer in San Francisco, had 100% of reviewers praise its fresh food. Certainly something can be learned from both sides of the spectrum.

Next week, we’ll explore more interesting insights from King Retail Solution’s study. Watch the Convenience Store Products newsletter for more.