What Retailers Can Teach the Forecourt

By Chris Griffiths, Managing Partner for Customer Experience, REPL Group

As fuel retailers embark on their digital transformation journey, it’s vital they consider which are the highest priorities to upgrade, how to do that and the reasons to do so. The increase in electric vehicles, while being a major disruptor, much like online shopping is for the high street, is an opportunity for fuel businesses to reconfigure their offering to bring in digital experiences. Customers have traditionally headed to the forecourt to fill up on fuel, pay and leave. However, as electric vehicles become more common, this demand for fuel will wane and therefore fuel retailers will need to find other ways to draw consumers to the forecourt. This echoes changes taking place on the high street where competition and innovation from online counterparts have changed what consumers expect and want from a shopping experience. Consequently, in the face of this disruption, high street stores have had no choice but to adapt and innovate to keep up. Now, as fuel retailers are faced with similar disruption, what can they learn from high street stores?

More opportunities to upsell

Currently, filling up on fuel takes about five minutes, whereas typically it takes at least 30 minutes for an electric vehicle to complete a fast recharge to 80%. This 30-minute waiting time gives fuel retailers a chance to maximise sales potential and inspire impulse buys by promoting and showcasing a range of items, such as coffee and snacks, as well as car maintenance products, like screen wash. Creating more opportunities to upsell is something high street stores have done by using technology to enable staff to interact with customers on the shop floor. For example, self-service tills and mobile pay stations require fewer members of staff to be tied to the till bank and free them up to engage with customers in the store.

An experiential approach

In recent years, high street stores have adopted an experiential approach, understanding that this is something that online retailers are unable to offer. With the rise of electric vehicles, fewer customers will need to visit fuel retailers to top up their tanks, and so these retailers should take note from the high street and also look to improve the overall experience they offer. For instance, fuel retailers could offer additional services, such as car washes and employee-manned air and water pumps.

The importance of becoming a destination for more than just fuel is starting to be realised, with some petrol stations now offering coffee shops and fast internet where customers can check emails or do some work while they wait for their cars to recharge. Customers can also pick up groceries and even enjoy a shoulder massage in select locations. With the move to electric vehicles, fuel stations must become destinations, and by providing experiences, rather than convenience options, they’ll help drivers make the most of the time it takes to charge their cars.

In order to truly future-proof their enterprises, fuel retailers must look to high street stores for inspiration to discover how to embrace digital transformation as they transition their business models from fuel to retail-first. As demonstrated by high street retailers, having the right technology behind the scenes will be critical to achieve high levels of customer service, an effective supply chain and healthy profit margins as they embark on this reinvention of the forecourt.

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