Why C-store Customers Choose a Chain or Small Operator
With nearly 155,000 convenience stores spread out through the United States, consumers are certainly not at a loss for options, and the decision to stop at one store vs. the other across the street can often be a choice between doing business with a chain or a small operator.
Convenience Store News, in partnership with its sister company Carbonview Research, recently surveyed 1,505 consumers who shop at a convenience store at least once a month for its eighth-annual Realities of the Aisle consumer study. The sample of respondents was obtained from a national panel, representing the total population based on gender, age, region, income, and presence of children in the household. The yearly survey essentially asks respondents the who, what, when, where, why and how of their shopping habits.
This year, as part of the study, CSNews and Carbonview Research delved into the demographic profile of c-store shoppers who typically shop at small operators (10 stores or less) vs. chains (11-plus stores), and what they find most appealing about each.
Interestingly, the presence of children in the household seems to have the greatest influence over whether c-store shoppers choose to visit a small operator or a chain.
Shoppers sans kids at home — a majority of c-store shoppers, at 58 percent — show a striking preference for small operators: cited by 67.7 percent as their typical choice, compared to 56.9 percent who typically shop at a chain location. Among the 42 percent of c-store shoppers with children living in their household, more typically shop at chains (43.1 percent) than at small operators (32.3 percent).
Why do c-store shoppers choose a chain over a small operator, or vice versa?
In the good news column for small operators, they win out on customer service. Respondents were given a list of attributes and asked to rate the store they typically shop at on those attributes. In the area of customer service, 66.5 percent of those who shop at small operators rated their usual store as excellent/very good. This compares to 61.5 percent of chain shoppers who said the same about their usual c-store’s customer service.
Also in the good news column for small operators, they earn a higher rating on convenience, but by a very slim margin: 84.5 percent of those who shop at small operators rated their store as excellent/very good on convenience, one point higher than chain shoppers at 83.5 percent.
The bad news for small operators, however, is that customer service and convenience are the only attributes where they win out. Conversely, more chain shoppers than small-operator shoppers rate their usual c-store as excellent/very good in the areas of variety of products offered, price, quality of prepared food, and fun to shop. The two attributes where small operators lag chains most are variety of products offered, and quality of prepared food.