Price remains the dominant reason why consumers buy gas at a particular location, but how consumers shop for that price is shifting, according to the results of a new consumer survey released today by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
Two-thirds of consumers (66%) say that price is the most important factor in determining where they buy gas. But while a majority of these price-conscious consumers still shop by looking at the price posted at stores (57%), an increasing number of consumers today ‘pre-plan’ their trips: nearly one in five (18%) make their decision based on a specific loyalty card/discount and another 10% review gas prices online. And one in seven (14%) rely on a specific store’s overall reputation for offering the best prices.
Moreover, the price of gas affects broader consumer sentiment beyond the fill-up: 85% of consumers say that gas prices impact how they feel about the economy.
Gas prices affect consumer sentiment because filling up is such an important part of daily life. While the Super Bowl attracts a huge audience of more than 110 million viewers, an even greater number—160 million consumers—shop at convenience stores every day, with 40 million of them fueling up on any given day.
“Gas prices play an enormous role in consumers’ everyday conversations,” said John Eichberger, NACS vice president of government relations. “Retailers know that consumers will go someplace else for a difference of a few cents per gallon—and this daily battle for customers is why retail fuel margins are so thin,” he said.
Consumers will literally go out of their way to find the best deal for gas prices: 66% say that they would drive five minutes out of their way to save five cents per gallon and 39% would drive 10 minutes out of their way to save five cents per gallon. In addition, consumers are very willing to change their method of payment if it leads to cost savings: 78% would switch from paying by credit card to debit card and 66% would pay by cash if they could save five cents per gallon.
The national survey of more than 1,100 consumers was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC examined how consumers shop for gas and other items, what changes their behavior and how gas prices impact their views on fueling and the broader economy.
The survey results were released as part of the 2014 NACS Retail Fuels Report (www.nacsonline.com/gasprices), which examines conditions and trends that could impact gasoline prices. The online resource is annually published to help demystify the retail fueling industry by examining, among other topics, how fuel is sold, how prices affect consumer sentiment, why prices historically increase in the spring and which new fuels are likely to gain traction in the marketplace.
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.
The annual NACS Retail Fuels Report is published in early February to help address a variety of fuels issues before the switchover to summer-blend fuel.
“Most consumers don’t think much about their fueling experience—it’s convenient and they are on their way,” said Eichberger. “But consumers are always thinking about gas prices. The NACS Retail Fuels Report is designed to simply explain complex conditions so that we can help demystify the fueling experience.”