As our lives become busier, our time becomes more precious and the need for convenience wherever possible becomes imperative. We no longer see the forecourt as just a place to top up our petrol, but somewhere where we can successfully complete several errands.
Many forecourts are located in areas such as busy city centres or main roads where there isn’t the space for traditional convenience stores. As a result, they often capture customers on route to other destinations or carrying out their daily routine and means that the forecourt industry can reach more customers who want a quick and convenient shop.
The ACS Forecourt Report found that our top three reasons for visiting a forecourt are food to go, newspapers & fuel. More food-to-go is now purchased from forecourts than convenience stores and it’s estimated that a whopping £61 million was spent on sandwiches from petrol stations alone last year. 60% of forecourts offer the basics alongside their fuel, such as tobacco, newspapers, prepacked sandwiches and drinks. A further 28% of forecourts include a full convenience store, many of which are now used as click and collect points for retailers such as John Lewis, which indicates why we are seeing an influx of shopping being carried out in forecourts.
It is estimated there will be more than one million electric vehicles on UK roads within two years, requiring 100,000 charging points, nearly six times more than the current number. Recharge time is currently around 30 minutes - significantly longer than a quick refill. As there becomes an increase in the usage of electric cars and the time spent at the forecourt rises, the services that are offered will likely expand. For example, more stations may start providing seating areas and spaces for social interaction. HIM suggests that there is an opportunity to re-shape retail spaces as research shows that shoppers who take a seat spend up to 40% more than other shoppers.
The forecourt experience is becoming more streamlined with the introduction of a variety of new payment methods over the recent years. Contactless payments and pay at pump systems have significantly reduced queue times and improved customer experience. Further to this, developments within the automotive industry are also set to transform the fuel transaction process. Honda, Visa and Gilbarco Veeder-Root recently previewed an in-vehicle payment system that notifies drivers that they can pay for fuel when they are near a smart fuel pump. The purchase amount is displayed on the dashboard and drivers confirm payment with the touch of a button. HTEC now offer P97’s mobile commerce platform which helps customers pay at pump via their mobile. This cloud-based commerce connects fuel, consumer packaged goods, quick-serve restaurants, and other merchants to consumers by enabling payment and digitally offer campaigns from any device or connected car. This technology could open a variety of avenues and opportunities to simplify our daily tasks, and not just in the motor and forecourt industry.
Now is an important time for the forecourt sector to incorporate and embrace change into their approach, and consideration needs to be given to all aspects that make up a forecourt. Creating an engaging user experience and improving upon what competition is offering is more important than ever. Petrol stations are a necessity for most people, so the focus doesn’t necessarily have to be on attracting customers but rather on the range and quality of what can be offered.