What are the “critical success factors” in the c-store visit—i.e. everything that has to go “just right” to make it a successful visit? While there are dozens of potential factors that customers care about—cleanliness, organization of shelves, food quality and convenience, friendliness of staff, the checkout experience, variety, background music, pricing, lighting—just to name a few… it’s helpful to get back to basics and ask which ones matter the most?
Location, Location, Location
According to Kalibrate, location drives volume. And it makes sense. You can have the cleanest store, with the friendliest staff and the best product selection, but if your c-store is a far drive from your customer base, it’s simply not convenient.
Back to Basics
The fundamental principles that make for a positive experience in a c-store shouldn’t come as a surprise, since they can easily apply to a host of other retail locations: basic cleanliness, staff friendliness and product knowledge and product availability.
While these ideas are fairly universal, much of the way consumers use c-stores is highly dependent on a c-store’s location (which is critical to its success). A nationwide survey conducted in late 2014 found that suburban shoppers need an all-day stop for quick, small item picks; rural consumers are more mobile and most interested in fuel and on-the-go food; residential urbanites like to make quick stops for impulse buys; and urban business customers make routine stops for grab-and-go snacks during workday hours.
Accordingly, a c-store that caters to the kind of customer its location would imply:
- suburban and urban residential locations would prioritize fast service;
- rural c-stores would offer snack and beverage deals in an effort to drive customers into the store;
- and stores near urban businesses would invest in the variety and customization of their foodservice.
Of course, the success of a c-store customer’s visit revolves mostly around food— its freshness, its variety, its convenience and accessibility. A survey of nearly 4,000 c-store shoppers determined that the number one factors (both tied with 90% of those surveyed indicating the importance of each) in whether a hungry customer would patronize a store were “taste and flavor of the food” and “convenient location.” Just behind were “good value through lower prices” (89%), “service is pleasant and friendly” (88%), and “quality of the food” (87%). Respondents also indicated the following as relatively unimportant: whether the store was “kid-friendly”, had a recycling program, appropriate music selection and décor.
Moreover, natural food choices continue to maintain their allure. Shoppers who prioritize convenience still care about health, and studies have seen a trend toward natural and organic products—along with customers’ willingness to pay a premium for them—on grocery shelves. A 2016 Nielsen forecast on drivers behind shoppers' choices asserts that “retailers who leverage the trend by increasing such offerings on their shelves can differentiate themselves from their competition and develop loyalty.”