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HOUSTON -- Generational differences have contributed to a steady decline in gasoline brand loyalty, according to a newly released study by The NPD Group, a market research company based here.
According to NPD's Motor Fuels Index, which tracks consumer motor fuel purchasing behaviors, older consumers (those over age 65) have always been more likely to limit brand choice to only one brand, while younger consumers historically have been more willing to shop around.
The percentage of drivers reporting they "always buy one brand of gasoline" measured 28 percent in the first quarter of 2009, compared to 34 percent in the first quarter of 2000, NPD found. Comparing first-quarter 2009 loyalty measures vs. those in the first quarter 2000, the age group that experienced the greatest decline in brand loyalty was the 30 to 44 age segment.
In 2000, 18- to 29-year-olds were the least brand loyal. But in the intervening nine years, many of them brought their brand-switching behavior into the 30 to 44 age bracket. Among those who have purchased a major brand, the 30 to 44 age group is now the most likely group to try multiple brands, according to NPD's research.
"I believe we can expect the trend to continue as drivers ages 18 to 29 also exhibit less loyalty than previous generations," said David Portalatin, industry analyst for NPD's automotive unit. "This group is beginning to be influenced by the 'echo boom,' children of Baby Boomers, who will be the largest generation of drivers in the history of the automobile."
NPD also analyzed the behavior of the most loyal consumers (those over 65 who only use one brand) and found the choice of gasoline is more likely to be related to the brand's credit card offering.
While quality and performance are important to gasoline purchase decisions, younger consumers who report loyalty to a single fuel brand also report their brand choice is likely to be driven by the convenience store offering where they buy gas.
"It's going to take best-in-class retailing, including fresh food offerings and a diversity of products and services, to attract and retain drivers' fuel purchases in the future," Portalatin said. "Gasoline marketers will want to leverage today's technology to implement loyalty promotions at the pump, such as discounts, rebates and rewards tied to in-store purchasing."
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