The fuel industry is ever-changing, from ‘Pay at the Pump’ services and Electric Vehicles (EV) to mobile payments, self-driving vehicles and more. The question many fuel providers are asking as these new innovations come into the fore is; how will these changes affect the fuel retail sector?
While these developments are set to be revolutionary for car manufacturers and drivers as well as hugely beneficial for the environment, many retailers are concerned that some of these innovations will lead to declining sales in petrol and convenience retail. However, through some forward thinking on the part of company leaders, there can be a balance between giving customers the speed and convenience of motoring and payment innovation whilst thinking of innovative ways to generate a healthy fuel retail profit.
Past fuel retail innovations such as ‘Pay at the Pump’ (where customers can pay for their fuel via a card payment terminal on the pump) have been widely adopted by many fuel providers throughout the UK. Some companies remain wary of adopting outdoor payments for fear this will impact on convenience retail sales.
The loss of revenue misconception from forecourt payment types has also stuck to mobile payments on the forecourt, despite the additional benefits mobile payments can offer. Customers can be quickly cleared from your forecourt; fueling can take as little as 90 seconds, meaning a vastly better throughput on high volume sites. The data you can gather about customers is valuable, allowing you to easily personalize your contact strategy to that individual customer’s needs and test and measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. While these technologies are still in their infancy, no company wants to be left behind in the race to become mobile. Therefore companies are now investing in customer experience.
Electrical Vehicles (EV) are now widely available and alternative sources of power through biofuels, LPG, batteries and fuel cells are beginning to pose more of a threat to traditional petrol types. A report from Nissan says EV charge points will outnumber petrol stations by 2020. They found that there were 8,472 fuel stations in the UK at the end of 2015, representing a steady decline from the 37,539 recorded in 1970, EV charging stations are projected to number 7,900 by 2020.
Should petrol stations begin to offer EV charging services? It seems a logical step from one type of fuel to the next, but fuel companies have not been keen to compete with widely available free to use charging points. More recently however, EV charging companies are beginning to move away from the “charge for free” model, with both Tesla and Motorway service station charging provider Ecotricity now charging customers for previously free charging services.
EV customers must dwell longer while they wait for the car to charge which can also be converted into a valuable retail opportunity. “Shop while you charge” or simply having a nice spot to stop for lunch with your family as your vehicle recharges can provide additional value to car charging services.
For now, drivers are still suffering from range anxiety which is likely to stall the advance of electric cars until battery technology can be significantly improved, and with hybrid models currently being the more popular than purely EV cars, petrol and diesel are likely to remain major players for the foreseeable future.
Self-driving cars, whilst revolutionary to the way we travel and potentially adding up to $7 trillion to the global economy, pose a huge logistical puzzle. While self-driving cars will likely be able to drive themselves to charging points (much like a Roomba currently does) The challenge of universal automated charging between different vehicle manufacturers, and who will pay for it, is one that is yet to be solved.
What can companies do now to prepare for the future?
- Improve the retail offering – having a strong retail offering with attractive products means customers will still want to go into the store, even if this is after they have paid at the pump, fueled up and parked away from the forecourt.
- Improve cafe facilities – many customers on the road will happily pull into a petrol station if they know great coffee is available. With current car charging technology being relatively slow, being known as a reliable source of a good quality hot drink while a customer waits could be the first step to building an EV strategy.
- Utilise mobile payment apps – use data from customers fueling habits to improve your retailing, vastly speed up throughput on the forecourt, advertise to customers through email and push notifications, provide a valuable site finder service to fleet drivers, the list goes on!
At REPL, we are specialists in providing bespoke apps for fuel retailers and believe mobile devices are the key to success for retailers going forward. We can create an app specific to your station’s requirements that will allow you to activate the pump, make your payment and receive an invoice all on your smartphone! If you want to stay ahead of the game, contact us and a member of the team will be happy to help.