Wawa, QuikTrip & Sheetz Top C-store Industry in Driving Loyalty

ATLANTA — New research from The Coca-Cola Co. on customer loyalty across the convenience, grocery, value (dollar) and drug store channels reveals which characteristics drive trial, frequency and loyalty, and which retailers are succeeding at creating “customer advocates.”

In the convenience channel, Wawa Inc. tallies the highest advocacy score, at 45 percent. Customer advocates are consumers who will recommend that retailer to other shoppers.

Sheetz Inc. and QuikTrip Corp. are not far behind, with advocacy scores of 42.2 percent and 42 percent, respectively. They’re followed by Casey’s General Stores Inc. (38.4 percent), Speedway LLC (28.5 percent) and RaceTrac Petroleum (28.2 percent), according to Coca-Cola’s exclusive iSHOP Loyalty Drivers Research.

Coca-Cola has been conducting an annual study of shoppers and shopping behavior since 2013. Called iSHOP — short for Individual Shopping Habits, Occasions and Perceptions — the uniquely comprehensive study surveys consumers on a daily basis throughout the year to account for seasonal differences and other potential variables in their needs and habits.

The research goes beyond Coca-Cola’s own beverage categories to gain insights about the entire shopping experience, and polls beyond the primary household shopper to cover all consumers. Respondents range in age from 16 to 75. The results encompass roughly 40,000 interviews each year.

RELATED: For complete shopper insights across retail channels, visit the interactive experience "The Coke Formula" on PathtoPurchaseIQ.

Delving Deeper Into the Scores

Pennsylvania-based Wawa scored the highest grades with loyal shoppers on four of the top five drivers measured: 53 percent of frequent shoppers rated Wawa tops for “is a store I trust;” 49 percent for “has friendly, comfortable atmosphere;” 58 percent for “clean shopping area;” and 34 percent for “provides good value.” The food-forward convenience store chain also ranked second, at 37 percent, for the fifth driver of “helpful employees.”

In the No. 2 position overall, Tulsa-Okla.-based QuikTrip ranked first for “helpful employees” with 41 percent of shoppers; second in “has friendly, comfortable atmosphere” (45 percent); third in both “clean shopping area” (57 percent) and “provides good value” (28 percent); and fourth in “is a store I trust.”

Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz, in the No. 3 position overall, ranked second in three of the top five drivers: “is a store I trust” (51 percent); “provides good value” (34 percent); and “clean shopping area” (57 percent). The retailer also ranked third in “has friendly, comfortable atmosphere” (45 percent), and fourth in “helpful employees” (32 percent).

Directly behind those top three performers is Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s. The large publicly held Midwest c-store chain ranked third in “is a store I trust;” fourth in both “friendly, comfortable atmosphere” and “clean shopping area;” and seventh in “provides good value.”

Enon, Ohio-based Speedway, a division of Marathon Petroleum Corp., ranked fourth in value; fifth in trust, cleanliness and helpful employees; and sixth in atmosphere.

Other c-store chains in the study include: 7-Eleven Inc. (its highest ranking on the top five drivers was fifth in “provides good value”); Circle K (it ranked third in both “is a store I trust” and “helpful employees); and RaceTrac (its highest ranking was fifth in “has friendly, comfortable atmosphere”).

The study also included such store banners as Hess (acquired by Speedway), Kangaroo Express (acquired by Circle K parent Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.), and Stripes (now part of 7-Eleven).

Other prominent convenience retailers, such as Kwik Trip Inc., Maverik Inc. and Cumberland Farms, were not included in the final results because they did not receive enough customer responses to achieve statistically accurate data, according to Coca-Cola.

More than 60 companies overall were studied for this unique research report.

The Different Aspects of Loyalty

For convenience store retailers, the research determined that the top drivers for trial putting the retailer into the shopper’s consideration set — are:

  1. A good place to grab a quick meal or snack;
  2. Easy to get in and out quickly;
  3. Familiar layout;
  4. Convenient hours; and
  5. Good checkout experience.

However, different factors drive frequency (repeat visits) and advocacy (recommending the store to others). For frequency, the top drivers are: items I buy are in easy locations, one-stop shopping, is a store I trust, helpful employees, and good overall value. For advocacy, the top drivers are: store I trust, good atmosphere, clean shopping area, good overall value, and helpful employees.

These are the factors that Coca-Cola researchers say will build long-term traffic. 

The study also ranked c-store retailers on several other drivers of shopping frequency, from couponing policies to checkout experience to fuel prices. The leaders in select categories are:

  • Has Good Coupon Policy: Speedway ranked first, with 7-Eleven in second.
  • Has Good Fuel Prices: Speedway ranked first, with Sheetz in second.
  • Has Everyday Low Prices: QuikTrip ranked first, with Sheetz in second.
  • Has High-Quality Products: Wawa ranked first. Sheetz in second by less than 1 percent.
  • Rarely Runs Out of Stock: Wawa ranked first. QuikTrip in second by less than 1 percent.
  • Has Clean Restrooms: QuikTrip ranked first, with Sheetz in second.
  • Has Safe Parking Facilities: Sheetz ranked first, with Casey’s in second.
  • Has Quick Checkout Experience: QuikTrip ranked first, with Casey’s in second.
  • Good Place to Grab a Quick Meal: Sheetz ranked first, with Wawa in second.
  • Has Good Loyalty Program: Speedway ranked first, with Sheetz in second.

C-stores vs. Competitors

Comparing convenience stores with other retail channels reveals that convenience stores trail grocery retailers on the top drivers of shopping frequency and advocacy. Among grocery chains, H-E-B, Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s and Publix score the highest marks in four of the top five drivers. For the final driver, “good overall value,” the top grocers are H-E-B, ALDI, King Soopers and Lidl.

The rankings of value chains (dollar stores) and drugstores are more similar to those of c-stores than grocery stores and club stores. Dollar Tree and Dollar General generally have higher scores on the top drivers than the 99 Cents Only Stores and Family Dollar chains.

CVS and Walgreens dominate the drug channel rankings, followed by Rite Aid.

Costco leads the club channel, trailed by BJ’s and Sam’s Club.


For complete shopper insights across retail channels, visit the interactive experience "The Coke Formula" on Path to PurchaseIQ.

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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