Specialists believe 6 million electric cars (battery electric and plug-in hybrid) will be delivered in 2022. That is 50% more than in 2021 which is proof that the petrol business has changed drastically over the past year and will continue to be disrupted because of new fuel types and changing consumer behavior. A transition in the type of energy gas stations supply, in itself, will not be enough, as they will continue to compete with domestic charging and networks already installed in places of leisure.
Petrol companies are currently reinventing their business model and adapting it by incorporating the latest technologies, and evolving into something other than just fuel providers.
Over the past years, more and more stations have upgraded into automated stations where customers can refuel their cars by themselves and pay via an app or a machine.
Another significant upgrade came with smart stores that incorporate advanced technologies such as AI, that allow stores to gather data and send their clients personalized offers.
So, what are the challenges fuel providers are facing?
The challenges of incorporating modern physical commerce in gas stations
A modern gas station that attends to a digital customer needs a conceptual renovation, not just a visual upgrade, and should evolve from being vehicle-centric, to becoming consumer-centric.
One of the main challenges is to find solutions that allow them to maintain relevance in the context of our daily routines. Popular new services that can help consumers maximize their time while their vehicle is being fueled, can be laundry services, entertainment, or even coworking spaces.
Some fuel companies understood how to make the most of these changing times, by taking advantage of the advanced technologies that are available and revolutionizing their stores. Ghop, for instance, the pioneering startup in the implementation of the first smart shops in Spain, has opened a new establishment in Alcalá de Henares, opposite the Elefante Azul washing tracks. This modular establishment, measures about 15 square meters, offers a total of 250 food and beverage items, and is functional 365 days of the year.
Galp, on the other hand, a multinational energy corporation headquartered in Lisbon, has created, in collaboration with the Portuguese startup Sensei, the first smart store available in a service station in Europe. This pilot project is located in one of the most emblematic service areas of the energy company in Lisbon.
These new business models and any new model stations are rooted in data and in the customer journeys that are defined beforehand.
So, which are some of the most popular customer journeys?
Customer journeys in the world of gas stations
Collecting customer data and extracting relevant insights is a key factor in defining effective customer journeys that will have an impact on sales. In order to gather such valuable information, many petrol companies started off by creating fidelity programs that require customers to leave their personal data. More recently, many have developed mobile applications that gather much more detailed information such as purchasing habits.
This kind of data unlocks a few types of customer journeys:
The most important one is sending personalized promotions as a way to incentivize people to go to the station. For example, a customer receives a marketing email or push notification while at home, with a personalized promotion. This marketing campaign is based on data collected in the past such as most popular products bought, when the purchase was made, or any such patterns. This detailed information allows businesses to establish profiles and ad-hoc promotions. A customer then receives a notification or an email with a discount for buying some of their top products, based on their past behavior. Ideally, this will trigger the client to also recharge their car with fuel or energy, and perform other actions in the shop such as picking up a package.
Another potential customer journey is the click and collect, when people buy products online and have them delivered to a gas station.
Gamification is also used in certain customer journeys. For example, in the world of food retail, supermarkets are much larger than in service stations and the volume of traffic varies from one area to another. The issue with low traffic is that the products that are exposed there are not seen. Food retailers such as Carrefour constantly optimize where the products are showcased and even place visual incentives to motivate people to walk in areas where traffic is low. In gamification, when companies realize people that haven’t visited their store in a couple of months, they incentivise them by sending gifts or vouchers with discounts.
Technology is everything
Gas companies are taking advantage of advanced technologies such as AI or machine learning to upgrade their stations as well as identify customer behaviors and use the data they gather to do personalized actions. A trend many specialists believe will start becoming popular is setting up a recognition system where, in order to enter a smart station, the customer identifies themselves either with a QR code, facial identification or by using a registered credit or debit card. Clients will even be able to have purchases be recognized and assigned to them, making payments even easier and more direct.
A food retailer that has done this successfully is Veritas, a Spanish supermarket chain. When people enter the store and move around, the Veritas app identifies them and sends notifications while the customer is still inside the store based on the Next Best Action calculated during the night.
More than ever, fuel companies are finding new ways to leverage advanced technologies to upgrade gas stations to the new customer habits that are constantly evolving, and also incentivize people to visit the shops. End-to-end service stations management solutions such as Everilion Station help build a new interactive model with clients, putting them at the center of the business.