By Frank Beard
It’s no secret that online ratings and reviews are important. As I explained in an education session at the 2017 NACS Show, brand ownership is effectively in the hands of today’s consumers. Since 85% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, many will look beyond marketing efforts and let their peers have the final say. Would you visit a restaurant with fewer than two stars and dozens of negative reviews?
But there’s another reason why it matters. Consider my experience on a recent trip.
Everything looked great from the road as I pulled the rental car into one of my favorite convenience retailer’s newest locations. Modern building, great design aesthetics, clean forecourt. There was no indication that I was about to encounter the opposite experience inside the store. And besides, I’ve always enjoyed the food at the chain’s other locations. That’s why I went out of my way to visit this one.
But I knew something was wrong when I walked through the door. The tables were covered with dried food, utensil wrappers dotted the floors, and dirty napkins and crumbs were dispersed as if a storm had blown through only moments earlier. I began to rethink my lunch plans, and I nearly canceled after approaching the counter. Much of it looked, dry, dull and haphazardly mashed together—a clear departure from the high standards that I’ve observed at other stores.
I got the attention of a disengaged employee and reluctantly placed an order.
The rest of the store was okay. Not bad, but not particularly good. The restrooms could have used some cleaning, but I did visit during one of the busiest times of the day. It’s possible that someone cleaned them after I left. And the employees at the registers were quite friendly.
But something was very wrong with the foodservice. Back at that counter, I was informed that they were out of what I ordered. That happens, so I asked for something different—hold the onions—and watched as the same disengaged employee only removed about a third of them before assembling the meal.
“Thanks, have a nice day.”
Back at my car, I wondered if my experience was normal or if I’d caught the store on a bad day. I got on my phone and checked the location’s ratings and reviews only to discover similar comments, and worse, from other customers. Complaints about the quality, the taste, the employees—and even one that said the chicken was raw.
One thing was clear: Although this store’s concept was spot-on, the execution was off. Something wasn't right. And this information already had been available for months.
I’m being intentionally vague about certain details because I don’t want to shame this company or the store. I’m only using the story to illustrate a larger point.
Online consumer feedback is a reflection of the customer experience. If it’s good, bad or something in-between, your customers will tell you. And at a time when consumers seek quality experiences and have the option to avoid the rest, it’s essential to have a strategy in place to monitor this real-time feedback. Those who do so are alerted to problems as they occur, and they’re well-positioned to address them before damage is done to the reputation of the store and the brand.
This isn’t to suggest that the store wasn’t busy. It’s located on a highly trafficked road, and the forecourt was full of cars. But I also suspect that the foodservice traffic has normalized far below its potential, and it’s easy to see why after reading the reviews. How many customers now refuel their cars and drive down the street to nearby QSRs? How many skip the store altogether and go to other convenience retailers for their food and gas? I have no doubt this store would capture more business if the company had a strategy to monitor online feedback, identify low-performing outliers and immediately correct the problems.
I won’t lie: After reading a few more reviews, even I decided to put my lunch down.
Frank Beard is a regular NACS Daily contributor who has traveled to more than 1,000 convenience stores in 24 states. He raised awareness of the industry's healthful food options with his “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment, and he's an analyst/evangelist for convenience store and retail trends at GasBuddy. Follow Frank on Twitter here.