The forecourt sector is pushing ahead with technological breakthroughs while preparing for the EV deadline.
A technological boom and a boost of EV charging investment means good news for the forecourt sector, despite inflationary pressures on household incomes and concerns over pump prices.
EV to the rise
With recent speculation about a potential delay to plans to ban petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2030, the government was forced to clarify its position that the date will not change.
According to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, 2030 is an “immovable target”, which at least provides some sense of clarity to the sector in these already challenging times.
Forecourt retailers have already started the transition to the EV future, as the rise of EV drives is expected to shape UK petrol and service stations in the future, according to the Future of the Forecourt report by Fresh Food for Now Company.
According to data, 7% of EV drivers are more likely to choose a location if it offers quality hot drinks, while 7% would stop if there was a good range of food options throughout the day. This reflects further findings that 62% buy food-to-go from petrol/service stations monthly on an ‘all day grazing’ mission – everything from a snack to a quick breakfast, or light meal in place of a missed lunch.
“We have a unique set of resources to enable a dealer to explore new opportunities now and in the future including partnering Dealers through the Energy Transition,” Jenny Lockwood, Head of Retail Dealer for Certas Energy, says. “This means providing the consultation, hardware, installation, and software solutions.
“We have created a new brand for e-mobility and energy transition, EVOLO, which will span across domestic, commercial, and roadside services. One of the key projects we have initiated is around E-Mobility and the building of a network of ‘on the road’ rapid charge points to bring consumers and business users a complete solution.”
Meanwhile, the government has published regulations to cover operators of publicly available EV chargers across all of the UK and require 99% reliability from rapid charger networks. Under the new regulations operators will have one year to ensure contactless payment is available with all chargers with a power of 8kW or more. The regulations will also require 99% reliability for each charge point operator’s network of rapid charge points, measured as an annual average. Operators will also be required to make information available so consumers can check whether a charge point is in use and working before they arrive.
Concerns around pump prices and healthy competition are felt across the sector, with the regulator stepping in to introduce a new fuel finder scheme to give drivers access to live, station-by-station fuel prices on their phones or satnavs.
The scheme would be made possible by new compulsory open data requirements and backed by a new ‘fuel monitor’ oversight body. The proposals are the key recommendations by the CMA to UK government following its in-depth study into the road fuel market, which found a weakening of competition in retail since 2019.
“We need to reignite competition among fuel retailers and that means two things. It needs to be easier for drivers to compare up-to-date prices so retailers have to compete harder for their business,” Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said in a statement.
The challenge that pump price volatility presents is one also addressed by Gulf. “Last year, Gulf launched PricePro, a complimentary pricing tool to enable Gulf dealers to make more informed decisions relating to fuel pricing,” Lockwood notes. “The situation that existed before we introduced PricePro was unacceptable. It favoured the large groups, fuel companies and those with the clout. It was not a level playing field for smaller operators, so we have effectively made available much of the same pricing intel as used by the major players, available by phone or PC, with potential savings of up to £950 a week.”
Technology is at the forefront of helping forecourt retailers navigate the current landscape with a lot more confidence. “New technologies are driving the renaissance of the independent sector and this will continue although smaller sites with limited scope for development look more vulnerable than ever as higher interest rates, labour shortages and rising costs take grip,” Lockwood adds. “Within Certas Energy and Gulf Retail, we have every reason to be upbeat as more new dealers joined the Gulf network, buoyed by our relentless focus on driving down costs and driving-up the profits of every Gulf dealer.”
Henderson Technology is also ramping up its offering, with Fuel Pay, a streamlined way to pay for fuel without going in the store. The app, launching in August 2023, promises a “simple, secure, streamlined” way to complete customer payments, combined with a quicker and more convenient experience. “The pandemic showed us how customers can shop in different ways, and this trend has continued,” Darren Nickels, Retail Technology Operations Director, notes.
“We knew forecourt sites have a multitude of customers who want to drive onto the forecourt, fuel up, but not enter the shop to pay or purchase additional items. Our Appetite! app already offers grocery click & collect and delivery options, but we saw there was a demand for quicker and frictionless fuel transactions.
“For those using Appetite! we wanted to provide multiple solutions on one app for every touch point in both convenience stores and forecourt sites, so we created Fuel Pay so every forecourt site could have the opportunity to take a share of the customers who just want to pay and go.”
Meanwhile, Gulf has introduced a new telemetry tool, called Foresite, which helps highlight key trends and opportunities in each store’s sales. “Live trials of Foresite have started, tracking measures include fuel to shop conversion rates, loyalty take-up and use per category, joint purchases like meal deals and much more. And by embedding loyalty data alongside sales data, it helps Dealers set up Gulf’s award-winning loyalty scheme, Oomph, in the way that works best for their businesses and priorities,” Lockwood explains.