Gas Prices Weigh Heavily on Consumers’ Minds

 Some 65% of customers say they select a location based on the price sign at the store.

Gas prices play a significant role in how consumers feel about the economy overall, according to the results from the new 2013 NACS Consumer Fuels Report.  Nearly nine of 10 consumers (88%) surveyed in the national poll of gasoline purchasers said that the price at the pump has an impact in how they feel about the economy.

“Gas has clearly gone beyond being just a commodity — it is also a leading indicator for how consumers feel about economic conditions, and that has implications for both our industry and the overall economy,” said NACS Vice President of Government Relations John Eichberger.

Price is the dominant reason why consumers buy fuel at a particular location, according to the findings. Nearly three-quarters of consumers (71%) rated price as the most important reason why they select a particular location for fueling, a significant increase from the 63% who said so a year ago.

Of customers citing gas prices as their primary reason for shopping at a specific store, they overwhelmingly (65%) said that the reason they select a location is because of the price sign at the store, reinforcing how retailers must fight for gas customers’ loyalty on every fill-up.

NACS also examined how much consumers will change their behavior to save even a few cents per gallon by driving across the street, driving up to 10 minutes out of their way or paying by cash or debit card inside the store. Cash discounts proved the most popular option for consumers to save money at the pump. Nearly half of all consumers (46%) “strongly agree” that they would seek out cash discounts, and fully 78% are open to the idea. A staggering 60% of consumers who buy fuel at night (7pm to 6am) strongly agree that they would seek out cash discounts.

NACS released the results of the consumer survey as part of the 2013 NACS Retail Fuels Report <http://www.nacsonline.com/gasprices>  which examines conditions and trends that could impact gasoline prices. This is the fifth time in the past seven years that NACS has surveyed consumers, providing insights on how consumers shop for gas, what changes their behavior, how they perceive the convenience store industry, and how they feel about alternative fuels and vehicles.

For more than a decade, NACS has developed its annual Retail Fuels Report to explain market conditions, especially as they relate to price swings, and has shared this information with Congress, the media and other opinion leaders throughout the country. The goal is to educate the general public and demystify the retail fueling industry by examining who sells fuel and how it is sold. In addition to the consumer research, NACS has added other new elements:

 ·        A look back at how Hurricane Sandy disrupted the energy markets — and what might help to mitigate the effect at the pump for future disasters.

·        A backgrounder on why gas prices historically go up in the spring, looking at seasonal demand, summer-blend fuels and infrastructure maintenance.

·        A backgrounder on how 9/10th cent pricing became the standard at the gas pump.

·        A detailed look at the history of fueling, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first drive-in gas station, which opened in Pittsburgh in December 1913.

The first week of February traditionally marks the beginning of the spring transition to summer-blend fuels for the fuels industry. Since 2000, gasoline prices have increased, on average, more than 50 cents between the first week in February and the time of the seasonal high price, typically late May.

NACS  releases the annual Retail Fuels Report every Feb. 2 (or the following Monday, if Feb. 2 falls on a weekend) because the fuels markets are similar to the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” in which his character wakes up every day to find that it unfolds, event-by-event, exactly the same as the day he had just experienced. In the fuels market, the foundation remains unchanged from year to year and the market typically reacts in a predictable way to even the most unpredictable events.

“The NACS Retail Fuels Report is designed to simply explain complex conditions to the general public,” said Eichberger. “We encourage members to also share these resources with their customers, reporters and legislators.”

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