More Consumers Pre-Planning Their Fuel Trips

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Price remains the dominant reason why consumers buy gas at a particular location, but how consumers shop for that price is evolving, according to the results of a new consumer survey released today by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

Two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) say price is the most important factor in determining where they buy gas. However, while a majority of these price-conscious consumers still shop by looking at the price posted at stores (57 percent), an increasing number of consumers "pre-plan" their trips.

Nearly one in five (18 percent) make their decision based on a specific loyalty card/discount, while another 10 percent review gas prices online. The NACS survey also found that one in seven consumers (14 percent) rely on a specific store’s overall reputation for offering the best prices.

"Gas prices play an enormous role in consumers’ everyday conversations," said John Eichberger, NACS' vice president of government relations. "Retailers know that consumers will go someplace else for a difference of a few cents per gallon — and this daily battle for customers is why retail fuel margins are so thin."

The price of gas affects broader consumer sentiment beyond the fill-up, too. Eighty-five percent of consumers say gas prices impact how they feel about the economy. Gas prices affect consumer sentiment because filling up is such an important part of daily life -- 160 million consumers shop at convenience stores every day, with 40 million of them fueling up on any given day, NACS cited.

Consumers will literally go out of their way to find the best deal for gas prices: 66 percent say they would drive 5 minutes out of their way to save 5 cents per gallon, and 39 percent would drive 10 minutes out of their way to save the same amount. In addition, consumers are very willing to change their method of payment if it leads to cost savings, as 78 percent would switch from paying by credit card to debit card and 66 percent would pay by cash if they could save 5 cents per gallon.

The national survey of more than 1,100 consumers was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC. It examined how consumers shop for gas and other items, what changes their behavior, and how gas prices impact their views on fueling and the broader economy.

The survey results were released as part of the 2014 NACS Retail Fuels Report, which examines conditions and trends that could impact gas prices. The online resource is published annually to help demystify the retail fueling industry.

"Most consumers don’t think much about their fueling experience — it’s convenient and they are on their way," said Eichberger. "But consumers are always thinking about gas prices."

NACS is the international association for convenience and fuel retailing. The organization has 2,100 retail and 1,600 supplier member companies, which do business in nearly 50 countries.

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