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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Gasoline prices affect overall consumer spending behavior more than any other economic factor, including the slowdown in the economy and the meltdown in the financial markets, according to a new report examining consumer attitudes/perceptions about gas sales by the NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing.
The study reported 59 percent of consumers said high gas prices have a "very significant" effect on their spending behavior, substantially above the 45 percent who said the same in the 2008 consumer survey. To a much lesser extent, consumers said they were concerned about a slowdown in the national economy or a recession (41 percent), rising food costs and rising home energy costs (each 31 percent) and the credit crunch and lending crisis (21 percent).
Even with gas prices at the beginning of 2009 approximately $1.40 per gallon below last year’s levels, consumers remain incredibly price sensitive, with 70 percent saying price is the most important factor in deciding where to purchase gas, and more than half of all consumers (51 percent) reporting they will drive 10 minutes out of their way to save as little as 5 cents per gallon.
Also in the report’s findings, consumers sent mixed messages with respect to how much they understand the retail sale of gas. Consumers said retailers make 40 cents per gallon profit -- about 10 times what retailers actually make -- yet when asked what they thought was a "fair" profit, they said 80 cents per gallon.
Consumers also grossly overestimated the percentage of fueling stations owned and operated by the major oil companies. With BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil all currently divesting their retail stations, less than 2 percent of all fueling stations remain operated by major oil companies, yet consumers thought that 63 percent of stations were owned by the major oil companies. The consumer confusion is likely because approximately 55 percent of retail gasoline facilities sell one of the top 20 brands of fuel, NACS reported.
Although consumers believe petroleum retailers make much more than they actually do, they don’t blame retailers for high gas prices. When asked to identify from nine options which were the most significant factors in causing high gas prices, 61 percent cited "manipulation of prices by OPEC," 58 percent said "lack of government oversight" and 50 percent blamed "oil speculators." At the bottom of the list was "gas stations increasing profits," with only 26 percent citing this as a reason. Further, when asked what they thought was the No. 1 reason for rising prices, only 4 percent of consumers blamed gas stations.
There is good news in the results for retailers who seek to grow in-store sales by driving gas customers inside the store. Nearly one in four consumers (24 percent) who purchased gas at a convenience store also bought coffee at the store in the past month, while 14 percent said they bought a sandwich when they purchased fuel in the past month.
The 2009 NACS Consumer Fuels Report is based on 1,100 telephone interviews with adult Americans from Dec. 23, 2008, to Jan. 12, 2009. This is the third consecutive year NACS surveyed consumers on this topic. Full data tables and other resources can be found on the NACS Web site at www.nacsonline.com/gaskit2009.