With Esso now accepting Tesco Clubcards and BP having offered Nectar points for many years, the loyalty card is a growing influence on where drivers are choosing to re-fuel their cars, and a strong influence on whether they also take the opportunity to top-up on their groceries, according to Blake Gladman, senior research manager at shopper research specialist HIM.

He was presenting the latest research into the forecourt sector, on the Live@TheCounter presentation area at last month’s National Convenience Show at the NEC, Birmingham. HIM questioned 1,000 UK adults on their attitude to and use of petrol filling stations.

"Shoppers are facing daily financial challenges be it pressure on the money in their pockets by increasing energy bills and poor savings, or the pressures they face from the increasing costs of fuel and rising food prices," he explained. "They are extremely price aware and price savvy, with 64% of shoppers always checking the price for petrol or diesel before they come onto the forecourt. This price awareness trend will continue to become more pronounced, with the price comparison websites being common place and price being the number one thing on shoppers minds."

When questioned, and without checking, shoppers were found to be fairly accurate on their estimate of what they thought the fuel price to be. But only 68% knew how much it was to fill up their tank completely, perhaps because they rarely do indeed 8% say they will be more likely to leave it to the last minute before they top up their fuel over the next 12 months; 16% say they will be putting a small amount in each time rather than filling it to the top; and 38% say they will be comparing pump prices between forecourts more over the coming year.

"However 82% of forecourt shoppers told us that owning a car was essential to their work and social life. So there’s no getting away from the fact that the car is as relevant now as it has always been," said Gladman.

When considering how much fuel prices impacted on shoppers’ perception of shop prices, 35% of shoppers agreed that expensive fuel prices would make them think that shop prices were also expensive.

"But only 16% thought the reverse that cheap fuel prices mean cheap shop prices," said Gladman. "So essentially you can’t win with shoppers! If the fuel is expensive then they will think the shop prices are expensive; if the fuel is cheap it won’t impact their opinion on the shop prices to the same extent.

"So communication of in store/shop items/ and value for money is critical at driving this message to shoppers. Price will always be an issue to them and something which they say affects a lot of their decisions. We believe though that value-for-money is at the heart of shopper’s decisions and this is not all about price. It’s also something that the independent retail sector can get ahead of the competition with due to their greater flexibility and local credentials with good product availability; good staff friendliness; fast speed of service/short queues; promotions and long opening hours." Other findings included: 61% want to see branded foodservice concessions on the forecourt and 15% would like to see a seating area for food and drink purchases; 24% of shoppers would like to see Post Office Services on a forecourt; 20% would like to see free wifi; and 16% would like to see a pharmacy.

"A shopper’s trust in a brand is strong. Strategic tie-ups can create and drive strong loyalty through association," stressed Gladman.

Fuel duty deferment

Alan Powell of Alan Powell Associates presented the latest update on the issue of fuel duty deferment which has the potential to provide much-improved cash flow for retailers because you don’t pay duty on fuel effectively for 31 days and don’t have to provide any financial guarantees.

"We have retailers that have been given EPSS approval," said Powell "The next stage is that customs’ oils policy requires you to have a duty deferment account number, which you give to your supplier and

they will defer the duty against your duty deferment account number.

"Customs are saying they won’t give a deferment account number until you have a supplier who will supply you. So it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. That’s unlawful because it’s unreasonable and I’m going to have to challenge that as well, but in the meantime I’ve heard that at least one retailer has got a large oil supplier to agree to supply on deferment terms. If that’s the case we’ve got the first one through the door. It may not be so easy for everyone else." Business rates

Brian Madderson, PRA chairman, explained the issues on which he is challenging the Government, including tobacco plain packaging and illicit trade (see news story page 4). He also talked about the PRA’s role in getting filling stations included in the Business Rates discount scheme which was announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement and will enable retailers to receive cash discounts of £1,000 for two years.