A decline in petrol and diesel sales coupled with the desire to reduce costs is forcing Europe’s fuel retailers to convert service stations to unmanned sites, finds Verdict, part of the Datamonitor group. By 2013, one in ten service stations across Europe won’t have any staff at the forecourt leaving motorists to pay for their fuel using automated payment technology. 

Research by the independent market intelligence company has revealed that while Europe’s network of manned service stations has contracted by 3%, or 3,622 stations, since 2008, the number of unmanned stations has increased by almost 5%. Fuel retailers that have expanded their unmanned operations include grocery chains, Tesco, ABC and Colruyt, Scandinavian players Neste, Statoil and St1, as well as large oil companies including Esso and Q8. The trend is going to continue with Verdict predicting the network of fully automated forecourts to increase by 3.7% by 2013.

Alex Jeater, retail analyst at Verdict, said: “Unmanned service stations, which typically sell cheaper fuel than regular petrol stations, are a common sight across Europe, especially in Scandinavia, France and the Benelux region. In Finland, for example, 54% of all service stations are unmanned. However we’ll see more unmanned service stations open in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, as fuel retailers look to reduce fixed costs such as staffing, while maintaining fuel sales.”

However, Jeater is keen to stress that the expected rise in unmanned sites does not signal the end for the service station convenience store: “Converting some service stations to ‘unmanned’ allows fuel retailers to develop a comprehensive convenience store at a smaller number of busier, better located service stations”.