Arather gloomy picture of how forecourt shoppers view the nation’s forecourts has been revealed in the latest Forecourt Report by leading sector wholesaler Palmer and Harvey. With a focus on ’understanding today and preparing for tomorrow’, the over-riding picture revealed in the report is "not an especially positive one", according to Palmer and Harvey’s chief executive Chris Etherington.

"Many forecourts are in need of modernisation; some don’t seem safe (especially at night); the washroom facilities are insufficient or in poor condition; queues are growing longer; and the products on offer are often too expensive or not of good enough quality sometimes both," he says.

The research for the 80-page report was conducted in conjunction with shopper research specialist HIM, and examines the latest technological developments and showcases the best of global forecourt design, along with identifying opportunities for savvy retailers to drive profit. The report also offers practical advice with a step-by-step plan to guide retailers through future-proofing their sites. Palmer and Harvey worked with forecourt design experts Circle Design to create visualisations of what the forecourt of 2025 could look like.

Circle chairman Robert Onion said petrol station design, with the pump islands beneath a canopy at the front and the shop behind them, had not changed significantly since the ’60s and ’70s: "Pump islands are industrial and unattractive and the best thing about them is if they’re clean, which is not always the case. Forecourts are formulaic in design and they really need to be looked at with a fresh pair of eyes." UK forecourts are described in the report as having a ’simple design that was developed by oil company engineers rather than creative and/or retail visionaries with profitability and costs per square foot as the primary drivers. Not only that but the report claims UK forecourts lag behind many other countries in terms of design and innovation.

It refers to a number of sites that were created by leading names in modernist architecture. They are iconic because they are different which could mean a unique canopy shape or design, or innovative use of materials and technology.

In other chapters the report reveals that shoppers are keen to see improvements in queuing, parking and washroom facilities along with technology being utilised to improve the customer shopping experience. When asked what services forecourts could offer to improve the experience, 83% would like to see pay-at-pump facilities; eight out of 10 motorists (80%) want to see charging points for electric cars; three-quarters (74%) would like to see plasma screens offering real-time traffic news; and 78% think forecourts should offer more parking spaces for customers who don’t want to buy fuel but just go shopping. In addition, 51% of shoppers would like to see forecourts offer a post office service; one in three a pharmacy; and a third of motorists want to have their windscreen cleaned, oil and water checked.

The report also found that drivers are being frustrated by longer queues at the petrol pumps, with 98% saying they’re waiting longer to fill up than they were a few years ago; more than half are seeing an extra three minutes added to their wait time; and one in five are waiting for an additional five minutes or more.

The high price of petrol also means that three-quarters of drivers will now check pump prices before filling up, while over a quarter now put in less petrol each time. Most motorists compare prices between petrol stations before they drive in, with half checking two petrol stations and a third checking three.

In addition, most drivers are only topping up to slightly over half a tank, and for 16% of drivers this is less than they were filling up a year ago. In fact, in the past year a huge majority of drivers (70%) have driven until their red fuel warning light came on, and for a quarter of motorists it is a monthly occurrence. Four per cent of drivers have actually called out the breakdown services because they have run out of petrol, while one in six motorists say that in the future they’ll be more likely to leave it until the last minute before topping up the tank.

Martyn Ward, commercial director of Palmer and Harvey, said: "The forecourt sector is under huge pressure at the moment and consumers are much more careful with their money. We felt it was time for us to find out what improvements motorists want and what innovations forecourts can implement to drive profitability."

doing it with style in europe

l The flagship MOL forecourt in Hungary (pictured above and on the cover) was created by Europa Studio and uses a distinctive solar panel ’tree’ design in combination with an angled canopy and sustainable detailing such as solar-powered heat pumps. The forecourt shop, Fountain Green, has been built using recycled construction materials and provides customers with a range of organic and environmentally friendly products.

l PKN Orlen operates forecourt coffee bars and bistros across Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. The report says its flagship site (left) combines eye-catching visuals (red neon sign with ’car headlight’ design), with an interior layout reminiscent of an upmarket showroom or private club with red leather couches and carbon-fibre patterned structures offering a Formula One vibe and aims to attract business professionals.