Forecourt as Front Door

How to drive increased traffic to the store and get customers to buy more.

By
Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor

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A $21 billion opportunity. That’s the figure that made CSP vice-president and group editor Mitch Morrison pose this question:“How do we use the fuel island as an effective billboard to bring people into the store? You need to look at the forecourt as your front door.”

In late January, about 80 petroleum marketers and retailers spent the day focusing their attention on how to maximize their forecourt opportunities. Presenting at CSP’s “Forecourt A Marketing Vehicle with Unlimited Potential” meeting in Glendale, Ariz., were representatives from industry names specializing in customer behavior, fuel-pricing strategies and forecourt loyalty.

“Fuel is a store category; it’s the biggest store category we have. Unintentionally, many of us today manage fuel as a silo, as something different,” said Mark Hawtin, senior vice president of strategy and business development for KSS Fuels, Florham Park, N.J.

Hawtin was joined by Priya Baboo, president of State College, Pa.-based VideoMining Corp.; and Dustin Coupal, co-founder of Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based GasBuddy and OpenStore. Morrison moderated the discussions.

“We get so focused on what’s happening inside the store that we don’t pay a lot of attention to the details that are happening on the forecourt,” said Baboo, whose consultancy tracks how consumers travel through c-stores.

While Baboo urged retailers to think of the c-store journey beginning at the pump and to strategize ways to draw customers into the store, Coupal encouraged attendees to consider shoppers’ needs even before they get to the store.

Get Them to the Site

“The forecourt is that place where you have your [physical] first impression with the customer,” Coupal said. But rather than wait until the consumer can see a gasoline price sign or other promotional signage, Coupal recommended retailers reach out to customers in the car, at the office or even at home via mobile marketing and application use. The mobile phone, he said, “has become the new gas price sign.”

Millions of motorists today tap Gas-Buddy’s consumer website and mobile app to find and share the best gasoline prices; 25 million people have downloaded the GasBuddy app. Meanwhile, its OpenStore service, which develops mobile apps for retailers, allows those companies to promote and advertise their prices—and promotional offers—to consumers specifically looking for that kind of data.

“Technology can help drive sales,” Coupal said. It can also provide analytical information about customers to retailers, allowing them to personalize and customize promotions. “Every retailer has areas that people should shop in their location,” he said. “Whatever that is, you’ve got to let that play into the value proposition for consumers.”And the more targeted your offer, the more effective.

“If you have someone who comes in every day except Saturday to buy a sandwich, let’s send them a promotion for a free sandwich on Saturday,”

Coupal said. “Let’s see if we can change his behavior.”Coupal also sang the praises of social media, pointing out that Facebook users are 51% more likely to make purchases from companies they follow on the site. And 93% of online consumers subscribe to promotional emails.

Another strong option: “Gasoline coupons are consistently near the top of the list for redemption,” Coupal said.“ ‘$2 free gas with this coupon’—That’s pretty powerful.”

These types of promotions relate to one of Copal’s favorite sayings: “It takes six times as much investment and spend to attract a new customer as it does to maintain a current customer.”

Get Them Inside

With such offers pulling consumers onto the forecourt, the challenge moves to getting them into the store and, more important, convincing them to spend money inside the store. Baboo of VideoMining recommends a rethinking of how retailers use signage at the pump and product adjacencies in the store. Consider that customers who purchase gasoline spend nearly twice as long at the pump as they do shopping in the store, opening up what is today a rarely tapped opportunity to talk to customers at the fuel island.“It looks like we’re not presenting the right information or promotion sat the pump,” said Baboo. “The c-store journey begins here. It starts from the forecourt. … There’s a huge opportunity to influence those people to buy something.”

VideoMining’s data shows fuel consumers spend an average of 4 minutes and 26 seconds pumping gasoline and only 2 minutes and 28 seconds shopping inside a c-store, including checkout. Current use of signage at the pump, however, shows retailers are not getting through to consumers.

“Only 1% of customers who took advantage of a promotion say they saw the signage for that promotion at the pump,” Baboo said. However, “You have a lot of potential to influence their decision in the forecourt.”

For example, 56% of fuel customers look at the pump while at the fuel island. Baboo suggests retailers consider digital signage to better influence these customers. Even if they pay attention to only a few seconds of the digital message, that should be enough convert some shoppers into buyers.“You cannot count on customer engagement for a long time,” she said.“It should be ‘glance media,’ ” or a message that can be fully understood in just a few seconds.

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