What the fuel station of the future means for retailers

Cruising into a petrol station and filling up the tank is a staple of everyday life for drivers across the world. However, according to predictions from Nissan, this isn’t set to last. In fact, the leading car manufacturer is predicting that in the future, fuel stations as we know it will become obsolete.

With the automotive market expected to reach $2.7trn (£2.1trn) in revenue globally by 2022, it might seem strange to question the continued existence of filling stations. However, as governments and auto-makers in Europe and North America commit to ambitious regulations designed to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, the petrol station as we know it is on course for a dramatic change.

This change has been caused primarily from the growth in electric vehicles. Over the last five years, electric vehicles have grown rapidly from a novelty to increasingly becoming the future of the automotive sector. In the US, new registrations for EVs doubled in 2019 compared to 2018 and in the UK sales of electric cars increased by 144% last year.

Interest in EVs has also continued to soar during the pandemic, despite demand falling and restrictions forcing factories to shut. Encouraged by the cleaner air evident during the lockdown, the health crisis has shown the impact of petrol-fuelled cars on our environment and has persuaded more people to consider sustainable alternatives.

The future of petrol stations

The transition from petrol to electric-powered vehicles fundamentally changes the fuelling experience as it takes considerably longer to charge an EV than a conventional car. Filling up a car with petrol or diesel takes a few minutes while charging an electric vehicle takes around 30. That’s a long time for consumers in an era of clickable content and ten minute TV.

This increase to 30 minutes has a far-reaching effect on fuel stations, if EV drivers have to spend a considerable amount of time waiting for their car to be fully charged, fuel stations have an opportunity to become more than a place to charge a vehicle.

Why fuel stations will become retailers

Petrol stations can fill the time it takes to charge a car by transitioning from a fuel supply business to a retail business that sells fuel. While petrol stations have always been a place to sell necessities and small ticket items, the increased amount of time it takes to charge an EV means that they now have an opportunity to become retailers and shopping centres. Fuel stations in the future could become a convenient destination to check out the latest model of a luxury car, or even a space to look at aspirational homeware, or pick up some clothing essentials.

Becoming a retailer, however, is easier said than done. It takes more than putting new stock within an existing petrol station. It requires stations to rethink how they operate and to understand customer expectations and experiences.

Fuel stations need to consider and tailor their offering to different consumers. Daily commuters, for example, will have different needs to families and long-haul drivers. The daily commuter wants to get on and go. Here, fuelling up will always be the primary draw. Families and long-haul commuters are more apt to be interested in retail products and services, but only if the industry can deliver exceptional experiences.

The more consumer data the industry collects, the better positioned they are to identity commuters and their own individual wants and needs. Fuel stations, for example, can use data to identify families and offer them discontents on restaurants and other family activities.

Over the next five to ten years, fuel stations are set to dramatically change. The shift to electric vehicles will upend the role of charging a car into a longer more retail-focused endeavour. For retailers, the transition represents a lucrative opportunity to mould modern fuel stations into retail hubs, and put consumers in the driving seat of a next-generation experience.

Contributed by Joe Tabita, group vice president at Publicis Sapient and Energy and Commodities Lead for EMEA at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient

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