How Wawa Gets Customers from the Pump to the C-Store

Customer Engagement Challenges of C-Stores by Thanx

Wawa customers are among the most loyal you’ll ever meet. The popular convenience store, which is predominantly along the east coast, has a cult-like following similar to In-N-Out Burger or Dollar Shave Club.

One Wawa customer has the store logo tattooed on his arm, another Wawa-loving couple got married at the store where they met.

This intense loyalty translates into profit. Wawa claims $10 billion in annual revenue. What’s their secret? The c-store works hard to drive customers from the pump to the store.

Most Wawa customers don’t fuel-up and flee, they make a point to go inside. And that’s what every c-store owner strives for. After all, the real profits aren’t from fuel; they’re from in-store purchases.

Wawa says their average customer spends $7.42, which is higher than the national average of $4.12 per customer.

The c-store is known for its customer engagement across its 700+ stores. Here’s a look at four things Wawa does to engage customers and encourage repeat business:

Ditch the day-old pretzels and offer made-to-order food

Responding to a demand for fresh, made-to-order food, Wawa offers a sandwich bar that fans rave about.

Just walk up to the digital kiosk and place your order for a Cheesesteak Shorti with fresh lettuce, and green peppers, and onions. That’s right, you can order fresh ingredients…at a c-store/gas station. And get it for as little as $5.

Consumers are pushing for this kind of food service from c-stores. Research shows 53% of consumers are willing to pay more at c-stores for healthier food, and 41% said they’d eat at a c-store over a fast food restaurant if better choices were available, according to Convenience Stores News.

While the demand is there, few c-stores are jumping on the made-to-order bandwagon. Ninety percent of gas stations offer grab-n-go meals like a hot dog from a rolling grill or a pretzel from a heated case, but just 7% have premium food stations. And few rival Wawa’s restaurant-like vibe.

Don’t want a sandwich? Wawa offers soups, quesadillas, and other meals that consumers can’t get enough of. Some customers even go out of their way to go to Wawa for dinner. Now that’s loyalty.

Provide fee-free ATMs to customers

At most c-stores, you’ll find an ATM. It’s usually hidden near the dingy bathroom hallway, where you pay a ridiculous amount of fees just to access your own money.

Realizing the need for cash-on-demand, Wawa partnered with PNC bank to offer fee-free ATMs. Customers love it.

Wawa ATMs have three times the traffic of PNC branch ATMs. Each month, an average of $600 million is dispensed to customers in what amounts to 233,000 transactions each day, says CSNews.

Customers now stop at the store just to use the ATM, and with cash in hand, customers often pick up a few items to go.

It’s another way that Wawa caters to customers needs while driving more traffic to the store.

Don’t follow the trends

Wawa has grown from a milk-delivering dairy farm in 1803 to a multi-million dollar business – and it didn’t get there by sticking to industry trends.

In a bid to pave its own path, Wawa’s newest stores won’t sell cigarettes. While that might not seem like a revolutionary decision, research shows cigarettes are the main reason customers go into c-stores, followed by packaged beverages and beer, according to a study by Nielsen.

C-Store Trend graph

The c-store is trading the “staples of the industry,” for a more evolved approach. They’re doubling down on what works, pushing their made-to-order food and line of original coffees and teas.

Every Wawa has a DIY coffee and espresso bar that has converted many $7 venti caramel macchiato lovers into Wawa coffee drinkers.

Playing on its food and coffee strengths, Wawa’s newest stores will have couches, café tables, and art deco walls, to create more of fast, friendly dining atmosphere over the traditional get-in-and-out decor of a c-store.

Offer great customer service at all hours

Wawa is open 24 hours. To live up to the convenience concept, the store is always open – and welcoming.

Wawa has created a customer culture, and its employees are at the core. Wawa invests in its employees, provides comprehensive training, and gives employees a share of the store’s profits.

Because of their commitment to employees, even in the minimum wage arena, the company has a low turnover rate and receives more applications for positions than other c-stores do for openings.

Harvard Business Review wrote about Wawa’s commitment to its employees and how it directly impacts customer care. And customers notice it too.

When asked, customers say the reason they come back to Wawa, again and again, is because of customer service.

And if Yelp is any indication of customer satisfaction, you’ll find plenty of five-star reviews that praise the store’s service, like this one from an Orlando customer:

Wawa customer reveiw

While many c-stores focus on getting as many customers as possible in the doors and back on the road, Wawa employees learn customer names and memorize drink orders, providing a sense of community that harkens back to mom-and-pop shops.

Wrap up

To succeed, Wawa invests time and money in customer engagement. The company works to offer amenities that customers love, even if that means straying from the norm. By engaging customers, they’ve created a loyal following of fans that few c-stores can rival.

It’s taken Wawa years to achieve its successful customer-focused strategy, and they’ve done most of it on their own. In today’s digital era, however, there are tools that can help c-stores engage customers and drive more revenue from in-store purchases.

A customer engagement platform can help c-stores get to know their audience and provide a way to communicate with loyal customers. In addition, c-store owners can collect customer data, send personalized promotions that encourage repeat visits, and collect feedback to make sure marketing efforts are profitable.