Oil and Gas

Favorite gas stations are at grocery stores and warehouse clubs


More Americans are fueling up at supermarkets and warehouse clubs instead of traditional service stations because of the competitive prices and loyalty-based discounts, according to a new survey.

The report, conducted by Market Force Information, concludes that it's simply a matter of convenience, price—and cleanliness.

"None of us look forward to going to a gas station, so if you're there anyway and you can fill up, you feel like you're getting two things out of the way," noted Janet Eden-Harris, Market Force CMO. "And they're typically clean."

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Market Force asked more than 5,300 motorists across the U.S. and Canada how satisfied they were the last time they pulled up to the pump and how likely they were to return. The results were averaged to create a Composite Loyalty Score.

Supermarket giant Kroger had the highest score of 79 (out of 100). Costco and QuikTrip (a chain of convenience stores located mostly in the Midwest and South) tied at 78. Sam's Club ranked third with a 76.

The major gasoline companies scored significantly lower. Shell, the top-rated brand, scored a 59. Esso (Canada) scored a 58. Exxon Mobil rated a 56. BP and Chevron tied with a 55. Sunoco had a 54.

The survey found that 7-Eleven had the lowest satisfaction score of 47.

It's hard to beat location

Despite the high marks, supermarkets and wholesale clubs have an uphill battle when it comes to closing the deal. Many drivers said they end up going to a traditional gas station simply because it's closer to home.

When asked what they like about their favorite gas station, 61 percent of those polled said location while price was cited by 59 percent.

"Convenience is often an overarching consideration for consumers on the go, and it's difficult to beat the pervasiveness of the regional and national chains that dot every town across America." Eden-Harris said.

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The motorists polled said they stopped at Shell more often than any other gas station in the past three months, but Market Force said that is mainly due to Shell's footprint. It has more than 25,000 locations across North America.

However, a good location doesn't create loyalty, the study noted. Market Force found that more than one-third (37 percent) of the respondents said they would drive past a gas station to fuel up at their favorite one. They said they'd be most willing to do that to fuel up at Costco, Sam's Club, Kroger, QuikTrip and Speedway (a convenience store chain owned by Marathon Petroleum with locations in nine states).

It's interesting to note that Costco (83), Sam's Club (73) and QuikTrip (70) scored the highest for competitive pricing, the second most important reason for choosing a gas station after convenience. Chevron (71) was seen as having the best quality fuel, followed by Shell (63).

Clearly location and price are the two biggest factors driving gasoline purchases, but Market Force found that cleanliness and service do play an important role.

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"In fact, our data shows that clean restrooms, a friendly greeting and a thank you can actually double sales over locations that aren't performing," Eden-Harris said.

Here are the four favorite gas retailers by region as determined by the Market Force survey:

  • West: Costco, Chevron, Shell, Safeway
  • Midwest: Speedway, BP, Casey's General Stores, QuikTrip
  • South: Shell, Kroger, QuikTrip, Exxon Mobil
  • Northeast: Exxon Mobil, Sunoco, Hess, Sheetz
  • Canada: Petro-Canada, Shell, Esso, Co-op

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.