More than two thirds of UK motorists are more likely to refuel their cars at a supermarket petrol station than any other forecourt, according to new research by customer intelligence company Market Force.

The poll of 9,000 UK motorists last month revealed that 68.2% of customers most frequently fill up their car with fuel at a supermarket with Tesco coming out on top as the number-one choice with 26% of the votes.

Oil company-branded forecourts were the favoured choice of less than a third of the motorists polled, with just 29% saying they fill up at petrol stations with a national brand name.

The Market Force study has highlighted the importance of outdoor payment to UK motorists. When asked what their favourite brand offered which other brands didn’t besides price and convenience 37.2% of respondents said that a pay-at-pump facility was the most important factor influencing where they chose to refuel.

Promotions and discounts were the second biggest influence on motorists’ choice of petrol station (35.5%), while one in four (24.9%) said that friendly and efficient service was why they liked a particular petrol retail brand.

Tim Ogle, Europe CEO at Market Force, said: "Our research reveals customers like the pay-at-pump facilities when buying petrol as it speeds up the process. However, one in four also said a friendly, as well as efficient, service was important to them."

Ogle referenced Shell’s decision to bring back the forecourt attendant as proof that the oil company is responding to motorists’ needs. Shell announced last month that it was setting out to improve the forecourt experience by reintroducing close to 400 forecourt attendants across 300 sites this year. The new attended service programme is a free service designed to help drivers with advice on fuels and fuel efficiency, basic car care and safety tips.

"Shell’s recent announcement that it will recruit forecourt staff to fill up petrol for busy motorists shows it has listened to shoppers’ efficiency needs," said Ogle. "As long as Shell ensures it employs the right people that will give a service with a smile, this is a great move and one that should differentiate the company from competitors to tempt customers away from the supermarket sector."

Forecourts mustn’t forget that discounts and offers on the convenience produce in their stores are just as important as price promotions on fuel too, added Ogle. "However, it is vital staff are trained to inform customers about them, and measures such as mystery shops and customer satisfaction surveys are in place to ensure the information is communicated. What’s the point of having an offer to boost sales if no-one knows about them?"

In addition, amenities and services offered at the site such as a cash machine, National Lottery or car wash made 17.4% of motorists favour a particular brand, while overall reputation of the brand influenced 20.8% of respondents. The brand’s perceived fuel quality was why 15.5% of motorists chose a brand.

Fuel prices

The survey has highlighted that while forecourts are always under pressure to focus on fuel prices, they need to think about other ways they can attract customers. Market Force’s research shows that 34.8% would be influenced to buy petrol from a forecourt if it has coffee on offer. Cold food and hot food on offer would encourage 28.2% and 23.9% of motorists respectively to purchase fuel from a petrol station, while an off licence is important to 13.2%. Said Ogle: "As many high street brands such as M&S, Costa Coffee, and Subway open up in the forecourt sector, the news suggests that shoppers now rely on the convenience of filling up and picking up daily food and drink essentials at the same time,".

Another factor discussed with respondents was whether a good brand reputation had any effect on where they would purchase their petrol. The younger age demographic (18-24) were most swayed by reputation, followed by the 55-64-year olds.

"Who would have thought ’reputation’ was more important to 18-24 years olds that any other age group?" said Ogle. "There is a huge opportunity for brands to build on this create a good relationship with this age group now and you could have a loyal customer for the long term."