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Why people buy the gas they do

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

Have you ever considered the reasons why you choose the gas station you do?

That’s important information to fuel marketers who spend considerable money each year trying to figure out the buying habits of consumers.  In July 2016, AAA released the results of research they conducted on gasolines and the buying habits of the drivers who use it.  The backbone of the study was a telephone survey of about a thousand adults in the continental United States.  They were asked questions relating to topics like why they choose the gas station they do and what they believe about the gas at those different stations.  The results of their work were not entirely surprising.

Price Is Still Numero Uno

Of those surveyed, they were six times more likely to choose a gas station based on price than anything that they thought was a component of the gas (like whether they thought one kind of gasoline had better detergents in it). Shocking, I know. Price and location were also, far and away, the biggest reasons drivers cited about the gas station they chose to fill up at.  Over 70% of drivers fall into this category.   The only other factor that was even in the ballpark with these was whether the gas station had a certain rewards program. But even then, it was less than 30% that this perk swayed in their buying decisions.

At the same time, 63% of drivers indicated that they believe there is a difference in the quality of the gasoline sold by different stations or brands. So you have a majority of people believing some brands of gas are fundamentally better than others, but when it comes to actually choosing what to buy, they default to price and location. So it could be that, intellectually, they believe there’s a difference but it’s not meaningful enough for them to forgo price or location in order to buy it.

Piggybacking on this, respondents were asked whether or not they purchased gasoline with a special detergent package, like a Top Tier gasoline.  Only 34% of people indicated they did. And almost 20% of drivers did not even know enough to give an answer there.  Age also was a predictive indicator – 41% of baby boomers bought gasoline with better detergency vs. only 32% of millennials.  The baby boomers are the ones old enough to actually remember when all gasoline did not come with detergents added to them.

Considering that detergency is the biggest effective difference between good gasoline and bad gasoline, this could be an area for gasoline marketers to target. 

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This post was published on October 13, 2016 and was updated on April 4, 2018.

Topics: Gasoline, Car Care