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NATIONAL REPORT -- Millennials love to visit convenience stores, but they are more interested in purchasing in-store merchandise than motor fuels.
Convenience Store News recently conducted its annual Realities of the Aisle consumer research study and found that while nearly three-quarters of all respondents said they purchased motor fuels in the past month, the number slips to 70 percent when looking solely at Millennials (aged 18-34).
The gap is even wider when looking specifically at 18- to 24-year-olds. Slightly less than two-thirds of Millennials in this age range reported that they purchased fuel in the past month.
Several conclusions can be drawn regarding why this generation is not filling up as much as its elders. The expense of operating and fueling a vehicle is perhaps the most obvious factor.
Also playing a part is the fact that while older consumers still enjoy their "muscle" cars, also known as "gas guzzlers," those in the Millennial demographic find such vehicles less appealing. Instead, they have taken a liking to fuel-efficient cars such as hybrids, which achieve better fuel mileage than predecessor vehicles, hence allowing fill-ups to occur less frequently.
Clearly, this is not good news for the convenience channel, which sells the majority of the nation's fuel. But there is one major silver lining to be found: When Millennials do stop at c-stores to fuel their vehicles, they overwhelmingly purchase high-margin in-store merchandise.
More than three-quarters of the Millennial respondents in CSNews' study (77 percent) who purchase gas at a c-store also buy in-store merchandise "some of the time," with more than one-third (35 percent) responding that they purchase merchandise "almost every time" or "every time." Only 9 percent of Millennials said they never purchase in-store merchandise when fueling up at a c-store.
The news gets even better when looking at the youngest of Millennials. The younger the consumer, the more likely they are to purchase in-store merchandise, according to the findings.
In comparison, nearly three-quarters of total respondents indicated they purchase in-store merchandise at a c-store following a fill-up. The oldest demographics were least likely to purchase in-store merchandise, perhaps due to past perceptions that c-stores do not offer quality items, especially fresh food.
Why are Millennial shoppers so willing to buy in-store merchandise?
Convenience is likely the strongest driver. Younger age groups more often have a smaller basket size than the general population and may not want to contend with a spacious supermarket.
Technology savvy is another factor. Millennials are more inclined to enter a c-store to purchase merchandise after receiving text alerts or being notified about deals via social media.
SIGNAGE OF THE TIMES
Much money has been spent by c-store operators to encourage in-store product purchases while consumers fill up at the pump. As for whether these efforts are working, the answer is unfortunately "no" for total respondents. Sixty-two percent of overall respondents said they are not affected by promotional messages at the pump, with women even less likely to be swayed by such efforts.
For those total respondents who do pay attention to promotional elements, loyalty programs were ranked as most important, followed by banners/window signs and promotional signage.
The story is much different regarding Millennials, however. A lower percentage, 46 percent, of Millennials report being uninfluenced by promotional messages at the pump, a 16-point difference compared to total respondents. Therefore, c-store operators may be rewarded handsomely by presenting promotional messages at the pump that specifically target this generation.
For those Millennials who are influenced by these efforts, banners/window signs prove most effective, followed by loyalty programs, gasoline nozzle display ads and promotional signage, respectively.
Like the general population, Millennials express little loyalty toward fuel brands. Price and convenience of the fueling location are the main things considered, CSNews' research revealed.
Among 330 Millennials who purchased fuel in the past month, nine out of 10 said price was the most important factor in their purchasing decision, followed by convenience at 83 percent and brand at just 44 percent. These figures are nearly identical to the results for respondents across all age groups.
As for purchasing fuel at outlets other than convenience stores, Millennials are slightly less loyal to c-stores than the population as a whole.
Twenty-seven percent of Millennials said they purchase fuel solely at a convenience store, while more than half stated they also purchase at gas-only locations; approximately one in five go to supercenters; and 17 percent buy their fuel from wholesale clubs.
Broken down further, more Millennial females prefer to purchase gas exclusively at convenience stores compared to Millennial men (30 percent vs. 24 percent). Millennial males are more likely to purchase fuel at gas-only locations (56 percent to 49 percent).
Across all age groups, three out of every 10 respondents said they purchase fuel at c-stores only. The groups most likely to purchase gas exclusively at c-stores include: females; those with incomes below $35,000; those without children under 18, and those in older age groups (45 to 54 and 55-plus).
Editor's note: This Bonus Content story is a complement to the April 2014 Convenience Store News Consumer Insights Special Edition. Click here to see in-depth insights on why and how Millennials shop c-stores, mined from the 2014 CSNews Realities of the Aisle consumer research study.