Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic petro and convenience stores have demonstrated just how nimble they can be by rolling out new operational initiatives and last mile services. While lockdowns and travel restrictions meant we didn’t have to fill up our gas tanks as frequently, some changes in consumer priorities played directly to the strengths of convenience stores.
We saw a rise in people shopping locally, consumers choosing to shop at odd hours to avoid crowds, and wanting to complete their purchase as fast as possible to limit time in store. As Cameron Watt, President and CEO of Intouch Insight, said during his speech at the Outlook Leadership Conference, "Sounds kind of like how this industry was founded."
So, as we close out the calendar year, we’re looking at the latest data to see how petro and convenience stores can best align with consumer priorities to ensure their continued loyalty in 2022. For all the data and details, you can download the full Consumer Habits Reports here, or keep reading for a quick rundown of our key findings.
It’s beginning to look a lot like ‘normal’
If you’ve noticed your stores are busier – you’re not alone. The frequency with which consumers are shopping in-store continues to rise. 38% of fall respondents indicated they make in store purchases 2-3 times a week, up from 26% in the spring, and 19% indicated they do so more than 3 times a week, up from 17% at the beginning of the year.
Despite the surge in online shopping over the past two years, alcohol and tobacco products are still purchased almost exclusively in-store. The most recent numbers show 99% of consumers purchase tobacco in store, up from 97% this past spring, and 94% purchase alcohol – holding steady since our last survey.
We’ve seen a steep drop off in the use of last mile services such as curb-side pickup and delivery – from 24% of consumers saying they’ve used such services in the spring to now only 4%. The main reason consumers don’t use these services remains a simple lack of interest. In our latest survey, 58% of consumers reported not being interested in these alternate methods of shopping, however this is down from 71% who reported a lack of interest in the spring. Instead, we’re seeing a rising preference to explore stores before a purchase with 27% reporting they don’t use last mile services because they need to look around before completing a purchase – reinforcing the rising comfort levels of consumers returning to in person shopping.
Even with the return to more traditional shopping, technology enabled transactions do still have an important role to play. Of those who have used curbside pickup services, 69% reported using a store’s app to do so. Consumers show a strong preference for completing gasoline purchase at the pump with 78% of recent respondents preferring it to completing their purchase in-store. However, we’re seeing a 50/50 split between consumers who prefer completing their other purchases via a cashier or self-checkout with key drivers for the latter being the speed related – shorter lines and quicker transaction.
Pre-pandemic concerns have returned to the top
Whereas at the beginning of 2021 the top two things consumers wanted businesses to improve was ensuring customers wear masks and better cleanliness and sanitation practices, we’re seeing much less concern around the extra safety measures implemented during the pandemic and the return of classics such as cost, convenience, and quality.
With that said, cleanliness has remained an important factor that has shown no sign of wavering over the past two years. 64% of recent respondents indicated cleanliness is an extremely important factor when deciding to visit a store compared to 62% in the spring of 2020. So, while the key motivators for consumers may have returned to what we had come to expect before the pandemic, some standards appear to have changed for good.
Collecting positive reviews from customers is as important as ever
When asked to rank the importance of various factors in influencing their decision to shop with a brand, positive reviews came in at number one with 51% of respondents indicating they are very important followed by loyalty programs at 40%.
If you read our Spring 2021 report, you’ll know it flagged that not enough businesses were asking for customer feedback. At the time, only 42% of consumers who completed an in-store purchase and 43% of consumers who completed an online purchase reported being asked for feedback. These numbers are now up to 56% for in-store and 58% for online.
While this is a marked improvement, it still leaves a lot of room for brands to stand out by more consistently soliciting feedback and ensuring it is quick and easy for consumers. The top reason people don’t provide feedback when asked for it is the amount of effort involved. 63% of recent respondents said they won’t provide feedback because it takes too long followed by 34% who said they didn’t have any feedback to give. This demonstrates that how you ask for feedback is equally as important as asking for it in the first place.
Pro Tip: Software like IntouchSurvey™ feature built-in logic that dynamically removes subsequent questions made irrelevant by data collected during the completion of a survey as well as survey health tools that estimate survey completion time and completion rate so you can collect the data that matters most.
Intouch Insight remains committed to helping petro and convenience stores stay ahead of changing trends in consumer priorities. For more data and insights from our latest study, you can download the full report here. Or, if you’re looking to stay up to date on customer experience news while you wait for the Spring 2022 report, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter and have the latest articles delivered directly to your inbox!
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