Investing in Forecourt Tech Can Fuel Customer Spending

Fuel consumption might be down from pre-pandemic times, but consumer spending doesn’t have to be.

Savvy convenience store operators have been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic to invest in their forecourts, and that momentum has carried over into 2021. For example, they’ve primed customers at the pump to spend on things other than fuel – such as store-to-vehicle food and drink delivery.

And by improving the forecourt experience through things like providing personalized digital content during the few minutes people spend filling up their vehicles and delivering safer, touchfree pump-and-pay options, fuel retailers can increase sales and loyalty alike. For example, 47 percent of consumers read signage at the pump while pumping gas, 62 percent are influenced by rewards for food and drink purchases, and 84 percent like the idea of pre-ordering drinks, snacks or other store items ahead of time or at the pump.

The following are trends convenience stores can implement to ensure retail sales continue growing thanks to smart and strategic investments in forecourt technology:

Install Digital Pump Screens to Promote Top-Selling Items

Filling up their tanks is a must-do rather than a want-to-do activity for most Americans. But thanks to investments in the forecourt, convenience store operators can improve this formerly tedious chore by simply using the short span of time with this captive audience to increase sales with digital ads that promote top-selling items.

By investing in digital advertisements adjacent to the pump, for instance, c-stores can integrate their loyalty program with display ads when loyalty members pump gas. This could include offering a discount for a customer’s preferred food and beverage combo, or informing them that a fresh batch of their favorite chicken wraps is ready and waiting.

For optimal engagement, be sure to update and adapt retail offerings to the needs of today’s time-pressed, digitally savvy and safety-conscious consumers. Consider offering healthy options that today’s consumers crave, such as fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Another trend gaining ground is the desire for food options that require little to no prep work on the part of the consumer. To meet this need, nearly half of c-store operators in 2020 added more prepackaged, ready-to-eat meals, and 41 percent focused on more prepared foodservice meals, according to NACS research. When retailers display these newer, more popular food items on digital ad screens, consumers are more likely to be lured inside, so they can purchase more than fuel.

Some convenience store chains like Wawa Inc. are even capitalizing on trends taking off in other areas of retail by offering drive-thru and curbside pickup only stores. Since consumers like the convenience and safer transactions that stores like this provide, Wawa is testing the waters to see how this model works.

Adopt Contactless Pay to Enhance Safety

Regardless of where they are, in the store or on the forecourt, safety-conscious consumers want to touch things less. Shortly after the pandemic began, a survey revealed that 87 percent of consumers preferred spending with retailers that offer touchless or robust self-checkout options. And stores are taking note: the National Retail Federation found that touchfree options increased for 69 percent of retailers in the first six months of 2020 alone.

Not surprisingly, the momentum for all things contactless continues this year, too. To capitalize on this trend, c-store operators are investing in tap-to-pay options that eliminate the need to slip a credit card into a card reader that’s used by hundreds of others each day. They’re also increasingly accepting mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and mobile apps that unlock the pump without consumers having to touch the payment terminal.

An August 2020 survey by Capgemini found that 64 percent of consumers reported using contactless cards often throughout the pandemic, with 41 percent of consumers who reported using cash a lot saying they also tried contactless cards. Additionally, 35 percent of consumers whose card use was already high tried a digital wallet.

Going forward, consumers will likely think twice before shopping with brands lacking contactless options.

Invest in the Forecourt to Fuel the Fire for More Sales

As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the likelihood that they’ll drive more than last year is high. They’ll stop at c-stores to fill up their tanks and – with the right technology like digital ads that promote healthy and convenient food choices and contactless payment options – fill up their tummies, too.

It all starts at the forecourt and how enticing the outdoor experience is for consumers.

A captive audience, with roughly three to five minutes on their hands, can fuel up and leave. Or, conversely, they can be tempted to spend more through personalized offers; safe, touchless payment options; and more.

Fuel consumption might be down from pre-pandemic times, but consumer spending doesn’t have to be. C-stores should make sure to capitalize on the revenue that can be generated by sprucing up the forecourt with technology that helps them run the store more profitably and brings customers back for more.

As president and general manager for NCR Retail, David Wilkinson is responsible for creating and executing NCR’s overall vision and strategy for the retail industry. He is focused on helping retailers thrive and deliver on their brand promise in a digital-first world by leveraging NCR’s unique software, hardware and services capabilities.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News