Gasoline Purchase Landscape Changing

Plenty of surprises found in younger generation and regional fuel purchasing habits

Years ago, younger consumers may have been teased by their peers for frequenting supercenters and mass merchandisers. Today, however, such stores have apparently become posh with the younger generation, according to Convenience Store News' 2013 Realities of the Aisle research. While consumers aged 18 to 34 frequent gas-only locations and supermarkets most often when not purchasing their fuel from a convenience store, these younger shoppers purchase gas from supercenters and mass-merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target by a much wider margin than any other age group.

About 18 percent of the consumers aged 18 to 24 surveyed by CSNews who don't buy gas from a c-store purchase it from a supercenter, such as those operated by Meijer, Target and Walmart, while 15.7 percent of those aged 25 to 34 do the same. Meanwhile, more than 16 percent of consumers aged 18 to 24 said they purchase gas from a mass merchandiser and nearly 24 percent of those aged 25 to 34 do the same.

Perhaps less surprising, but certainly positive for convenience store retailers, is that 70 percent of all the study's respondents reported purchasing gasoline at a c-store in the past month. Those figures varied little by gender and only slightly among income brackets.

By geographic region, though, the results varied dramatically. Consumers purchase gasoline at c-stores in the South by the widest margin among the regions (83.5 percent), followed by the Midwest at nearly 75 percent. Sixty-three percent of respondents in the West reported buying gas at a c-store in the past month, while the Northeast was the laggard with just 62 percent of those surveyed buying c-store fuel during that same timeframe.

Weakness in the Northeast is likely due to the lack of convenience stores offering gas in many areas. Gas-only locations or stations with small kiosks or mini-marts rule the day, especially in cities. "There are no convenience stores with gas in New York City or Long Island where I work or live," said Robert Iraggi, who lives in the Oakland Gardens section of Queens, N.Y., and works in Port Washington, N.Y. "So, I usually go to Hess and sometimes BP."

On the West Coast, Los Angeles-based Troy Richardson remarked to CSNews that if his city "has gas at convenience stores, I haven't seen it. All things being equal, I'll go to a Chevron station because they are running a promotion with Vons grocery stores and I can save 10 cents a gallon."

CONVERTING PUMPERS TO SHOPPERS

Drawing consumers from the pump to inside the c-store remains an age-old problem. However, coupons, loyalty programs and other in-store promotional methods are working, CSNews' research revealed.

Eighty percent of the survey participants said they purchase in-store merchandise after filling up their gas tanks at least some of the time. In a surprising turn of the tables, the Northeast led in this regard, with 83 percent of motorists in the region stating they buy in-store items after fueling up. The Midwest, South and West placed second through fourth, respectively.

Overall, 10 percent more males than females said they sometimes purchase in-store merchandise after fueling up.

On the other end of the spectrum, 20 percent of respondents rarely or never buy in-store items when getting gas. Hence, there is still a huge untapped opportunity for c-store retailers to convert more fuel customers to in-store shoppers. Among the respondents who rarely or never buy in-store items, the No. 1 reason cited for why they fuel up and then drive away is because they don't need anything other than gas at the time. A belief that in-store items at convenience stores are too expensive ranked second.

So, how can c-store retailers get more of their fuel customers to walk through the door? Offer coupons, according to the study's findings. Nearly 40 percent of consumers said coupons are the No. 1 way to influence them to purchase in-store items during their trip to purchase gasoline.

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