Are Australian fuel consumers becoming less sensitive to price?

Last week, ACAPMA released the findings of the 2017 Monitor of Fuel Consumer Attitudes. Conducted every two years, this national research gives insights into whether consumer trends in fuel buying behaviour are changing over time.

The 2017 results suggest that while fuel price remains a dominant consideration in site selection, Australian motorists appear to be less sensitive to fuel prices than they were in 2015 and that they are increasingly selecting sites based on the total petrol-convenience offer.

The research found that 48 per cent of survey respondents ranked price the number one factor in deciding where to fill up. However, this figure is significantly lower than the 60 per cent result recorded in the same research two years earlier.

“At first, we were surprised to learn that just below half of all respondents had nominated fuel price as the most important factor in their choice of a service station,” ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie said.

The results, however, appear to be consistent with research recently released by CommSec, which shows that Australian household expenditure on fuel is at the lowest level it has been for 30 years in real terms – and the ACCC’s June 2017 quarterly report on the Australian Petrol Market (June 2017), which found that fuel prices in 2016/17 in real terms were the lowest in 15 years.

“We believe that part of the explanation for reduced fuel-price sensitivity lies in the fact that, like consumers throughout Europe and North America, an increasing proportion of Australian fuel consumers are visiting service stations to buy convenience and grocery items – often without buying any fuel,” Mr McKenzie said.

While fuel remains the dominant reason for visiting a service station, the 2017 research reveals that the convenience offering is becoming more significant in the increasingly busy lives of most consumers.

“Analysis of the survey results revealed that there was a significant group of respondents who visited a service station to make convenience purchases without actually buying fuel,” Mr McKenzie said.

“It is worth noting that these results do not indicate that fuel price will not continue to be an important consideration in the decision of a motorist to frequent a particular service station. But there is a growing body of evidence – including this research – that the purchase behaviours of around 50 per cent of fuel consumers are no longer based solely on fuel price.

“The challenge for our industry is to accommodate this increasing trend away from ‘fuel-only’ customers to customers who are seeking a ‘fuel-and-convenience’ offering that helps them successfully navigate their increasingly busy lives.”

A copy of the 2017 Monitor of Consumer Attitudes can be downloaded here.

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