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Study: Omnichannel Amenities Will Staunch C-store Traffic Declines

DEKALB, Ill. — A new study of convenience store shoppers by Northern Illinois University and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater found that c-stores should offer more amenities such as omnichannel shopping, pay by scan, delivery, and buy online, pick up in-store. Doing so would result in better customer satisfaction and more repeat visits, according to the researchers.

The study, conducted by Numerator Inc., polled 323 convenience store shoppers to uncover the reasons for overall trip declines over the past five years, and to “add to the retailing literature of what convenience stores can do to overcome these challenges.”

Another finding that should interest c-store retailers is to whom they should target their advertising. Generation X is the predominant shopper at c-stores today, followed by millennials. “This suggests that Gen Z should be a key target market for c-stores going forward,” according to the report. “Advertising to the millennials to bring their children up into the c-store environment would be ideal.”

The scholarly study utilized various models to measure consumer preferences in c-stores. One framework looked at the stimuli that affect customer experience and customer satisfaction: product assortment; cleanliness, including food cleanliness; store atmosphere; price; and service quality.

“We then added omnichannel as stimuli items — such as pay by scan, delivery, and buy online, pickup in-store,” said the researchers, who then focused on what they called “hedonic” vs. “utilitarian” value.

Hedonic value is measured by a feeling of escape, joy and beach-like atmosphere, while utilitarian value is measured by “I got what I needed from this shopping trip and I felt smart.” Customer satisfaction was measured on how satisfied the customer was after the trip to the store.

As expected, more than 90 percent of respondents fell into the high utilitarian category. These are people who got what they were looking for and felt smart about their shopping trip. Then, the researchers tested to see what affect adding omnichannel components would have on the experience, satisfaction and revisit intentions.

The research supported their original assumption that c-store customers are primarily utilitarian focused and that a clean store with proper food handling procedures and high service quality, and with adequate product assortments, are required to satisfy customers and create revisit intentions. Fast, friendly, safe and clean are the basics of the c-store industry.

“It is important to mention that service quality directly affects revisit intentions and is highly significant,” the researchers added. These utilitarian focused customers not only expect high service quality, but they also demand it to make a return visit. C-stores that do not provide above-and-beyond customer service are alienating customers. Customers will not return if they receive poor customer service, according to the data.

The other hypothesis tested was whether c-stores would benefit from having more hedonic features and if that would affect customer satisfaction and revisit intentions.

More than 60 percent of the 323 customers fell into the category that researchers described as desiring a "hedonic experience." The hedonic questions were centered on the premise that “shopping made me feel relaxed, like an escape, and was truly a joy.” 

All stimuli were significant to the hedonic experience, with the exception of store atmosphere, cleanliness and food cleanliness (which points to customers expecting this in a utilitarian setting).

“This suggests that if c-stores were to focus on more hedonic customer experiences, this can have a significant impact on customer satisfaction and revisit intentions,” the researchers stated. “Our analysis further states that if c-stores can focus on the millennial customers with children by implementing more wow features that include the synergistic omnichannel components, this would be a win for the industry.”

There are two more findings worth mentioning. Five percent of the sample stated that c-stores were too expensive, while 4.3 percent cited a lack of product selection, and 1.9 percent cited safety concerns. However, since the data collected from Numerator was among frequent c-store shoppers, a further study would be needed to address why shoppers choose not to frequent convenience stores.

As for which omnichannel options are preferred by customers, the study showed that c-stores might want to focus more on such things as food delivery, integrating gasoline prices into their apps, ensuring consistency of prices between their stores and app, offering buy online, pick up in-store, and offering scan-and-pay without waiting in line. Additionally, a particular focus should be on hedonic fun ways to engage with their app and making the app convenient to use, the report stated.

The authors of the study are:

  • Samantha C. Gibson, DBA Candidate, MBA and BSBA, director of the digital marketing program for both the graduate and undergraduate programs at Northern Illinois University;
  • Denise Schoenbachler, Ph.D., the Douglas and Cynthia Crocker Endowed Professor in Business at Northern Illinois University’s College of Business, a 25-year member of the marketing faculty, and former dean of the College of Business; and
  • Maxwell K. Hsu, DBA, a full professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has taught in the U.S., East Asia and East Europe, and has published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles in top-tier scholarly journals.

For more information on this study, contact Gibson at [email protected].

About the Author

Don Longo

Don Longo is Editorial Director Emeritus of Convenience Store News. He joined the brand in 2005. With the highest recognition of any c-store industry media journalist, Don has given presentations to business groups throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, appeared as a guest on Fox Business News and National Public Radio, and is a highly sought source for major consumer and business news.

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