Marketing at the Pump

By utilizing a savvy forecourt strategy, which includes messaging on dispensers, c-stores can push up in-store sales.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor

Media at the pump—from digital gas-pump television advertising to pump-nozzle promotions—enable c-stores to gain in-store lift, differentiate their brands, build customer loyalty and even take food orders.

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Advances in technology continue to draw customers into stores. For example, Gilbarco’s Applause TV promotes retailer-specific products and services with large color screens in the gas pump. It’s a turnkey digital marketing solution designed to entertain and engage customers while driving them into the store.

Customers can also select from a condensed food-ordering menu and pick up their items inside. The company cites research showing that the medium drove customers into c-stores and generated additional purchases with up to a 39% increase on promoted items.

“Getting the gas customer, both four-wheel guests and professional drivers, from the pump into the store presents a huge opportunity for retailers,” said Mike Rodgers, senior vice president, chief strategy and information officer for Pilot Flying J Travel Centers in Knoxville, Tenn. “The four-wheel guest is less likely to enter the store than professional drivers.”

Operating stores and travel centers nationwide, Pilot Flying J uses interactive technology built into the pumps that can interface with the personal devices of its guests. This presents what executives view as a tremendous opportunity to drive traffic into the store.

“That said,” Rodgers added, “the marketing needs to be relevant and timely to the individual guests. At Pilot Flying J, we see significant innovation opportunities in this area.” This new technology offers the opportunity to deliver directly to the consumer, both on the gas and diesel sides of the business, through its app.

Tyler Tanaka, Pilot Flying J’s director of digital innovation, lauded Convenience Store Decisions’ 2017 Chain of the Year award recipient, Sheetz, for doing a nice job with its forecourts. “Good creative, and (it is) changed by daypart and season.” The biggest mistake that Pilot Flying J’s management sees convenience stores making with forecourt marketing is that marketing initiatives are not dynamic enough to really grab the attention of the consumer, he said

“In the near-future,” Rodgers said, “we believe personalization via interface with the consumer through app and beacon technology will have a large influence on forecourt marketing.” In addition, he sees auto start pumps activated by the car itself playing a role. “Connected vehicles with apps built into the dash from the factory, personalizing the messages at the pump with relevant ads and content will help.”

Other c-stores that are using technology to their advantage are growing. For example:

• Last November, BP rolled out an interactive gas pump called Miles, which offers voice instructions for activities such as listening to tunes, social media sharing, video ecards and trivia.
• Columbia, Mo.-based MFA Oil Co. recently installed outdoor payment terminals in each of its 73 Break Time convenience stores. The multimedia solution, designed for outdoor fuel retailing, supports a wide range of payment options including debit, credit, “tap and go,” vouchers and coupons, along with loyalty programs.
• Moyle Petroleum Co. in Rapid City, S.D., which operates 41 corporate c-store locations in the western U.S. under the Common Cents brand, recently standardized its c-store forecourt infrastructure with Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s EMV and Applause TV media solutions to increase store traffic and mitigate fraudulent transactions at the dispenser.
• Forward Corp. in Standish, Mich., which has 30 convenience stores across a 12-county area in northeast Michigan, started a rewards program less than a year ago through which they target fuel-only customers who have been to their pumps but not inside the store in the previous two months with a promotion for a free beverage in the store each day for 30 days. The program includes features such as email marketing, phone number lookup at the point of sale (POS), customer-selected rewards and paperless coupons, as well as a branded mobile app. It appears to be working: the company reported a 184% increase in spending from those customers.

Companies like Gas Station TV—the largest national video network reaching active consumers, with a mass audience of 75 million monthly unique viewers, or one-third of American adults – are providing national and regional marketers with access to attentive consumers. Founded in 2006, Gas Station TV pumps short video segments from ESPN, CNN and Accuweather interspersed with ads to more than 5,000 stations across the U.S.

“What we are seeing trend-wise is that more and more folks are utilizing convenience stores anyway as part of a more convenient way to do some shopping,” said Joel Eisfelder, director of sales development for Minneapolis-based AllOver Media Inc., an advertising services provider that provides 100 video displays for c-store in Los Angeles.

Beyond the marketing videos, Eisfelder said, the technology that is driving sales at the pump involves customer tracking via transactional data in the store or by credit card usage.

A majority of c-store operators still believe the time is not yet right for marketing via digital technology at the pump. Many realize that consumers are surrounded by screens, each competing for their attention in a battle for share of mind. Those screens that consumers select—tablet, phone or laptop—will always have an advantage over screens designed to grab patrons’ attention.
Gary Tabor, marketing and sales manager for Jay Petroleum Inc. in Portland, Ind., which operates 35 Pak-A-Sak convenience stores, said his chain’s forecourt marketing consists of traditional pump toppers.

“That’s about the only thing we actually do out at the pumps at this point,” said Tabor.
He agrees that customers in the act of fueling are ripe for nearly any type of marketing message.

“I think it’s a great time because it’s a boring situation when you’re out at the pumps. They’ll read anything that can occupy them. That’s why we’re counting on them to read those pump toppers, because they are bored.”

Pak-A-Sak is currently in the process of wrapping up its program of changing out gas pumps, and the idea of using video monitors, Tabor confirmed, has not been brought up, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t consider using them in the future. “I will tell you that there are not too many (convenience stores) doing it in our market. In fact, I can’t recall seeing any. I’ve seen it out of state several times, but not around here. I would say it is not in our immediate future.”

Joe Paclebar, communications manager for CEFCO Convenience Stores, based in Temple, Texas, said the c-store chain also opts for pump toppers, though the company might be interested in exploring video technology in the future.

“We know that it got popular starting about 10 or 15 years ago,” said Paclebar. “It didn’t do much, and now I guess it’s coming back again. I don’t believe we have any plans to test it.”

Forecourt marketing is also a good way to tie into a company’s loyalty platform.

“From a technology standpoint, Kum & Go focuses more of our digital efforts on our &Rewards program and digital app,” said Kristie Bell, director of communications. “We take a more low-tech approach at the pump, employing pumptoppers, and bollard and door signs to entice customers inside the store.”