ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Each day, about 40 million Americans purchase gasoline, but they are not doing it the same way, with the same motivations. A new NACS report outlines some interesting differences in fuel consumer behavior, demonstrating the relevance of age, gender and even region at the gas pump. Here are nine insights on the fuel customer ...
A convenient stop
Most fuel customers—58%—stop to get gas when they are low on gasoline and it is convenient for them to stop, according to the NACS survey. For the rest:
- 17% typically fuel up often to keep their tank full.
- 11% wait until their vehicle's gas indicator light turns on.
- 9% fuel up when they see a low gas price.
- 4% buy at the same day and time.
- 1% decide to buy gas after they’ve entered the store to make an unrelated purchase.
The middle of the day is the most popular time to fuel up, with 37% of consumers most often purchasing gas from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Women and baby boomers are especially likely to buy gas during this daypart. Another 33% of customers most often buy gas between 3 and 7 p.m.
The morning (6 to 10 a.m.) is the favorite time for 22% of consumers. The least popular time: night, with only 7% of consumers often fueling up between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m.
The NACS survey confirmed that price is the most important factor in deciding where to buy gas (59%), followed by location (23%). From there, consumers cited brand (10%), easy in and out (4%) and the quality of store items (3%) as the deciding factor in their choice.
Nearly two-thirds of consumers—or 63%—shop for fuel with the help of a store’s gas price sign. This number rises to 68% among millennials.
The rest of drivers shop for fuel based on a store’s loyalty card or a gas discount (16%), the store’s low-price reputation (11%) and the price posted on a website (9%).
More than three-quarters of consumers (78%) typically pay for fuel with a credit or debit card. Baby boomers prefer to use a credit card (68%), while millennials tend to prefer debit cards.
Only 21% of consumers overall typically pay with cash. It is most popular with those 50 to 64 years old, 37% of whom prefer to make their purchase with paper money. Only 12% of baby boomers typically pay with cash.
Seven out of 10 consumers typically fill their tank when buying gasoline. This percentage falls to 60% for consumers under age 35 but rises to 90% for baby boomers. For the rest:
- 13% buy gas based on a budget.
- 11% buy based on whatever money they have on hand.
- 5% buy a specific number of gallons each time.
- 2% spend whatever money they have left from another purchase.
According to the NACS survey, 44% of fuel customers say they go inside the c-store during their visit. Those ages 35 to 49 are most likely to go inside the store (50%), while baby boomers are least likely (30%). More than half of male fuel customers enter the store, vs. only 36% of women.
Once inside the store, 45% of consumers say they pay for their fuel purchase at the register. The other most popular purchases are:
- Beverage (42%)
- Snack (37%)
- Lottery tickets (23%)
- Cigarettes (21%)
- Grocery items (11%)
- Beer/wine (11%)
- Sandwich (7%)
Of fuel customers who also visit the c-store, 58% prefer to go inside first and then purchase gas. This figure rises to 62% for women, and 67% for those ages 50 to 64 years old.
There are regional differences: 57% of Midwesterners prefer to buy gas first, while 71% of consumers in the West typically go inside first.
After fueling up, 45% of consumers overall leave their car at the pump. This number rises to 71% for Midwesterners. Another 34% of consumers overall repark the car after fueling; Northeasterners are most likely to do so.
One-fifth of consumers leave their vehicle filling up while they go inside the store.
Most customers who purchase a sandwich or meal from the c-store eat it in their car (60%), while another 27% wait until they get to their destination. Eighty-three percent of food, beverage and snack purchases from the c-store are eaten within one hour of purchase, according to the NACS report.