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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Americans are increasingly seeking out fueling locations based on the quality of the food associated with the gas station, according to results of a new national survey released by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
While gas remains the primary determinant in selecting a station, a growing number of consumers say the quality of items inside the store dictates where they buy fuel. One in seven drivers, or 16 percent, say that the in-store offer drives their fueling decision, marking a 5-point increase since 2015. Just over half of Americans (51 percent) say that gas price is the reason they prefer a specific store or chain, but that number has seen a 6-point drop over the past few years.
The expanded food and beverage offers at stores also prompt customers to go inside the store more often; 42 percent of those fueling up also went inside the store, a 7-point increase from two years ago. For those who do go inside, the most popular reported reasons are to pay for gas at the cash register (50 percent), to buy a beverage (45 percent) or to buy a snack (36 percent). More than one in five (22 percent) say they used the restroom. Overall, 8 percent say they purchased a sandwich or meal, and that percentage jumps to 13 percent for younger consumers ages 18 to 34, NACS found.
"The numbers clearly show the growing trend of consumers seeking out food and beverages as part of their fueling experience. While retailers know they need to aggressively compete on gas prices — 67 percent of Americans say they will drive 5 minutes out of their way to save 5 cents per gallon — it also shows that there are other ways to compete for customers with a quality in-store offer," said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.
In 2016, gasoline demand reached a record 9.32 million barrels per day, but only 33 percent of American drivers report that they drove more in 2016, according to the study. For those who say they drove more, 41 percent listed their job as the main reason, while just 8 percent cited gas prices.
Other survey findings include:
- Nearly three quarters of customers (73 percent) pay by debit (37 percent) or credit (36 percent) card. Debit cards are most popular with consumers ages 18-34 (45 percent).
- The evening rush is the most popular time to buy fuel (36 percent), significantly more than the morning rush (22 percent).
- Nearly half (46 percent) of consumers say they have gotten a discount for their fuel by using a loyalty card or app, and 23 percent have gotten a discount for paying by cash.
- Of those who purchase a sandwich or meal, 56 percent say they eat in their car, compared to 34 percent who eat it once they arrive at their destination and 10 percent who eat at tables inside the store.
- Drivers expect that gas prices will increase throughout 2017, and predict that prices will be at $2.84 per gallon at year's end, a 52-cent increase from prices on Jan. 1.