BOSTON —Fewer fuel transactions, gallons sold and declining brand loyalty typified first-quarter 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic walloped gasoline demand. Those are some of the main takeaways from GasBuddy’s latest analysis of transaction data from its Pay With GasBuddy fuel savings program.
In developing its first-quarter 2020 Consumer Fuel Buying Trends Report, GasBuddy analyzed transaction data covering Jan. 1 to March 31, 2020. Pay With GasBuddy has processed millions of fuel transactions from nearly 750,000 consumers in the United States since it launched in 2017, Boston-based GasBuddy said.
“COVID-19 led to an unprecedented drop never before seen in U.S. gasoline demand, causing prices to sink like a rock in the first quarter compared to prior years,” said GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, Patrick DeHaan. “Typically, we see gas prices seasonally rise due to increased demand and the beginning of refining summer fuels. The impact of this global pandemic on gas prices and consumer consumption has made a notable difference on fuel transaction data.”
For example …
Fuel transactions fall off
From January through March 2020, monthly fuel transactions fell 6.6%, according to Pay With GasBuddy data. Most of this decline hit in March as several cities and states announced shelter-at-home orders. This compares to a 17.6% increase in fuel transactions from January through March 2019.
According to GasBuddy, fuel transactions dropped 14% year over year in March.
Gallons purchased drops
In the first quarter, monthly gallons purchased by Pay With GasBuddy cardholders dropped 9%. This is the inverse of the typical seasonal trend: In March 2019, for example, gallons rose 20% compared to February, and in March 2018 gallons grew 25% from the prior month.
For March 2020, gallons fell 20% year over year.
Payment volume crashes
Total payment volume from Pay With GasBuddy fell 21% from January through March 2020. Year over year, payment volume in March 2020 was off 28%.
Factors behind the payment volume’s bigger drop compared to gallons was a 47-cent-per-gallon decline in gasoline prices that began in February, coupled with the drop in fuel demand.
This sharp downward trend compares to first-quarter 2019, when total payment volume grew 1.65% from January to February and by 32% from February to March.
Brand loyalty takes a hit
Brand loyalty dipped 3 percentage points in first-quarter 2020 compared to first-quarter 2019. Fifty-five percent of Pay With GasBuddy users bought gasoline from more than one brand per month.
Forty-four percent of cardholders bought fuel four or more times per month. Among these “high-mileage” fuel customers, most filled up at two to three brands per month.
Transaction basics stay the same
Pay With GasBuddy cardholders spent an average of $27.53 and pumped an average of 11.7 gallons per fuel transaction in first-quarter 2020.
Similar to this same time period in 2019, the day of the week in first-quarter 2020 with the highest volume of fuel transactions was Friday, followed by Saturday, Thursday and Wednesday.
Most fuel transactions took place between 4 and 7 p.m.—again, similar to 2019 trends. This pattern held even in March, when most shelter-in-place orders were announced, GasBuddy said.
Fuel grade share holds steady
There were no big shifts in the grade of gasoline purchased in first-quarter 2020 compared to first-quarter 2019 among Pay With GasBuddy cardholders. Nearly 85% bought regular-grade gasoline, compared to 7.4% who purchased premium and 3.5% midgrade. Another 3.3% purchased diesel. Higher ethanol blends had a small fraction of share—0.5% of cardholders bought E15 and 0.4% purchased E85.