In a first for the downstream petroleum industry, ACAPMA has commissioned research to uncover the truth about what customers really want – and expect – from a fuel retailer.

The first National Monitor of Fuel Consumer Attitudes is being conducted during August, surveying at least 1000 fuel consumers in both regional and metropolitan Australia.

ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie said the aim of the survey is to gauge customers’ opinions on the total fuel retail experience – that is, beyond just price.

“We want to expand the dialogue between our members and consumers,” Mark said. “At the moment it is price-centric and fails to recognise that our industry goes to great lengths to ensure that consumers get safe and convenient access to transport fuels”

Mark believes that most fuel consumers take the safety aspect of fuel retail for granted – unaware, or unconcerned, that they are driving their vehicle over underground tanks containing large volumes of flammable liquid.

“They are doing this without a care or thought about how the forecourt environment has been engineered for safety.”

Mark also harked back to the not-so-distant past, when fuel was not as readily available, and there were legislated “odds and evens” days when you could buy petrol, citing improved accessibility and availability of fuel as being a major improvement over the past 30 years.

“We have such a regular and safe supply of fuel these days that these issues have all but been forgotten, and it seems price is the only factor affecting consumer decisions,” Mark said.

Or is it?

For example, the survey asks respondents whether they would pay extra for driveway service. And according to Mark, anecdotal evidence says they will. To a point.

“Interestingly, when asked if they would pay 5c a litre more, most people say ‘no’, but if you ask whether they would pay $2 a visit more, the answer is more positive,” he said. “And yet, with the average fill being 37 litres, $2 a tank is more than 5c a litre.”

Mark believes consumers have become so price sensitive over the cost per litre – especially with the introduction of such things as shopper dockets – that independent retailers have been forced to bring margins down to the lowest possible level. This means that fuel retailers have been required to rely more heavily on sales of convenience products to secure the profits needed to keep their businesses viable.

But perhaps it is time for independent retailers to go back to the future, and offer full driveway service in order to set themselves apart from the larger retailers. ACAPMA’s preliminary work suggests that a full service charge of $2.00 could potentially triple the gross profit per fuel customer, once the cost of wages is considered.

“We have been competing on price for so long, it is time to ask what consumers really want – and then make this information available to the industry so they can consider the business merits of actions such as a return to full service on at least a part of the forecourt,” Mark said.

The results of the survey will be presented during a plenary session “Customers First: Fuel Retail in Australia” at the 2015 ACAPMA National Conference & Expo, from September 22-25 at the Marriot Resort and Spa, Surfers Paradise.
For more information or to register as a delegate, please go to the dedicated conference website.