The reasons shoppers are visiting forecourts have significantly changed over the years, according to Molly Wilmot, new business director at shopper research specialist HIM. She told an audience of forecourt retailers and suppliers at the annual ACS/PRA Forecourt Forum last month, that the company had recently conducted 10,819 interviews with nationally representative samples across eight countries Australia, Russia, Poland, France, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK in order to discover the latest trends that are impacting shopper behaviour in some of the world’s leading convenience markets.

"Following our research we can see that we’ve completely changed the way we use forecourts," she said. "In 2011 more than half of us went to the forecourt just to buy fuel. In 2016 that has fallen to around one third. But this still represents a huge opportunity for retailers to ’interrupt’ the fuel shoppers and encourage them to purchase more items in the forecourt shop."

Wilmot said HIM research confirmed that fuel missions were now secondary for shoppers, with top-up missions on forecourts having doubled in the past two years. "Also the main reason one in four shoppers will go to a forecourt is to buy food to go a higher incidence than in supermarkets and convenience stores, so a real area of strength for forecourts."

Reporting on global trends, Wilmot said forecourts are "winning" in lots of different ways. "For example, in Italy, 44% of shoppers are using small-format stores for deals, as they’re very promotionally driven; customers believe forecourts are offering something unique, outside of supermarkets.

"In Ireland services are a big footfall driver we’re seeing really high satisfaction ratings for services there. In Russia we see a high proportion of shoppers buying evening meal items from forecourts; and in places like Poland, Italy and Russia, we see a high proportion of shoppers dining in on their local forecourt or c-store.

"There are lots of different trends which we can learn from other forecourt experiences around the world interestingly in Poland one of the main reasons shoppers go to forecourts is to use the toilets, and yet only half of UK forecourts have them.

"Cleanliness and hygiene is also a key issue for forecourt shoppers, especially where food to go is concerned."

Other research from HIM revealed that in the UK just 22% of people find forecourts enjoyable places to shop; and that 15% of shoppers want to see more seating areas in forecourts.

"The four important factors a forecourt must deliver on are speed of service; ease of shop; staff friendliness and product availability," stressed Wilmot. "These are the same four factors you would find in standalone convenience stores."

A promise of always having low fuel prices; better value; high quality food and beverages; as well as a strong charitable culture, has proved a successful formula for Applegreen, according to the company’s UK managing director Michael O’Loughlin.

He told the audience that customers were at the heart of everything the company did, which is why it was constantly developing new growth categories and services, taking into account the constantly changing state of the nation.

"Our focus needs to change to feeding the customer not their car!" he said. Ireland-based Applegreen, which has more than 200 sites, including 66 in the UK, has ties with a range of major food and beverage brands Greggs, Costa, Burger King, Lavazza and Chopstix Noodle Bar, but has also developed its own Bakewell Café, to strengthen the focus on feeding customers.

"The Bakewell Café brings about a strategic move towards a focus on food, with an emphasis on high-quality, great tasting and beautifully presented fare," he said. "We have built a network of top producers to supply our customers with fresh natural food, including quality meat, hot savouries, breads, pastries, cakes, fresh fruit and salads. We source our food locally where possible.

"We are always striving to be ahead of the trends and to improve our selection of food, so we are working with our Applegreen chef to develop new and exciting recipes and bring specialist expertise to the development process."

In terms of a quality offer, Nikki Rogers, BP’s retail trading director, spoke about the benefits and the challenges of working with major brands such as M&S, which is recognised as one of the best partnerships in the market.

"One of the key things that all of the great brands that work together do is address a customer need and work together to come up with a solution that works for both parties and the key element for me is that it has to work for both parties."

In the wake of the dire performance of the England football team at Euro 2016, Rogers said great partnerships were not just about throwing good people together and expecting it to work. "You have to work together and understand what each of you is trying to achieve, and you have to have a shared vision. The key thing all good partnerships identified, was a need in their customer base. Everyone talks about customer missions, and understanding who their customers are, and for us at BP, that is the key element to everything and I mean everything that we do."

Rogers said BP understands its customers: "We know who they are, how old they are, where they shop, where they live, where else they go, what they’re spending their money on we have all of that data and we mine that data. We identified that we have eight customer segments that come into our stores, but we decided that when we partnered with M&S, we could not be all things to all people. Every one of our customers is important, but we focus on our core customer groups which include professionals on the road; one-stop loyals; and customers looking for a quality convenience offer who represent 31% of our customers. Those customer groups deliver 61% of our margin. So if we get the offer right for those customers, we will grow our customer base, and we will grow our bottom-line profit."

essential role played by forecourts

A new report by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) launched at the ACS/PRA Forecourt Seminar has revealed the essential part that forecourts play in the UK retail landscape.
The 2016 Forecourt Report has shown that UK consumers are increasingly flocking to their local petrol station to refuel themselves and their families, not just their cars. Hundreds of stores now provide full food service solutions, from coffee and sandwiches to meals for the rest of the week. ACS chief executive James Lowman (pictured above) said: "Forecourts have seen significant development over the past 10 years, giving customers the opportunity to get food and drink for now, for later and for the rest of the week, as well as a host of other goods and services.
"Some of the best convenience stores in the UK are located on petrol forecourts, and there is still huge potential in the sector for growth. Many consumers consider their local shop to be on a petrol forecourt, and we anticipate this trend to continue in the coming years."
Some of the key findings from the report include:
Coffee is a major part of a modern forecourt 70% of stores have a coffee machine in store, from standalone vending machines to full barista services
Forecourts are a major source of investment in the UK. On average, each store invests over £16,000 a year on developing its business
The forecourt sector creates over 117,000 jobs in the UK, with more than 8,700 stores serving customers across every community, town and city
Excluding sales of petrol, the forecourt sector generates more than £4bn annually in sales.