As profits from fuel sales continue to decline, oil companies and symbol groups have realised the potential of forecourt retailing. Through the introduction of a customer-friendly convenience store at forecourt locations, the fuel industry has added another element to the customer experience.
The forecourt and convenience sector is a competitive market as it is usually located outside of normal commercial zones. Convenience retailing is all about attracting a customer and retaining that custom. A good way to ensure customer retention is to implement a loyalty program. Time-pressed consumers want the perfect customer experience as well as quick and efficient visits.
Forecourt retail trends indicate that impulse and commodity are the biggest push factors when purchasing in c-stores. The introduction of hot food services and deli counters highlights forecourt retailer’s willingness to adapt to the needs of the modern consumer.
Padraig Grimes, general manager of the retail division of Statoil, names forecourt retailing as the fastest growing sector in the retail market. While impulse purchases remain a very strong contender, tobacco still accounts for up to 25% of custom.
Grimes says that confectionary, soft drinks and biscuits are also top performers. The new and improved model of forecourt retailing has a lot to do with the investment in food products. As a result of changing demographics, forecourt and convenience retailing in Ireland have come into its own. More people travelling further with less time to eat and the shop has led to convenience stores filling a gap in the market.
This rapid development of convenience retailing means that customers are expecting more from their forecourt experience. Being in the convenience business, Grimes explains, means having a higher level of professionalism, as well as fresh produce and competitive pricing.
The origin of convenience retail trends is in the decline of profit margins in fuel, therefore customer’s need to feel compelled to shop with you for more than just ambitious fuel pricing; they need to have a pleasant experience. Statoil realised this and implemented a system to ensure standards called Fareplay. This is in an effort to enhance the customer’s engagement with the c-store.
The ambitious expansion of sectors can often involve overcoming unforeseen difficulties. In the c-store retailing sector, this comes in the form of staff, health and safety, and security. With the introduction of deli and hot food counters, staff need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skill set to manage their new responsibilities. As well of this, fresh produce introduces the problem of health and safety for customers. Following the correct procedures surrounding food preparation is paramount.
The modern traveller also expects to be able to access these amenities 24 hours a day, which brings a security risk along with it. This involves more staff training as well as investment in security infrastructure.
The rise of convenience retail in the forecourt sector is a complicated but necessary one. With fuel profits margins on the decline, customers need a new reason to frequent c-stores. Impulse purchasing can no longer finance or justify their existence. The introduction of hot food and deli services as well as a reliance on the sale of tobacco products, and fuel leaves c-stores with a strong and unique offering.