Remember when you used to buy books at a bookshop, and music at a music store? Someday, we may be wistful for the bygone days when we used to buy gas at a gas station.

The lure of one-stop-shopping, plus a legion of fuel rewards programs, have turned grocery and big-box stores into our preferred fill-‘er-up destinations, according to a new survey of grocery and gas shoppers.

The Market Force Information survey found that “consumers prefer to fill up their gas tanks at grocery stores and wholesale clubs rather than at traditional gas stations.” In the survey of more than 5,000 consumers, Kroger was found to be the “favorite gas retailer”, closely followed by Costco (which tied with traditional gas retailer QuikTrip), then Sam’s Club and Walmart’s Murphy USA. “The rise of grocery and wholesale clubs is formidable,” Market Force CMO Janet Eden-Harris said in a statement, “with the ability to use loyalty cards and point systems driving consumers to fuel where they perceive they get better value.”

In fact, according to the 2014 NACS Retail Fuels Report, more than 5,000 supermarkets, hypermarkets and club stores sell 12.6% of all gas purchased in the United States. A dozen years ago, according to the U.S. Census bureau, that figure was a mere 1.5%. Today, “these sites sell approximately 280,000 gallons per month,” NACS notes, “more than twice the volume of a traditional fuels retailer.”

That may have something to do with the fact that “convenient location” and “competitive prices” are the top two factors that consumers like most about their favorite gas station. And what could be more convenient, than fueling up while you’re already out shopping for groceries? As for price, especially during the summer travel season, supermarkets and big-box stores are falling all over themselves promoting their perks and points and other gas rewards gimmicks promotions, that can bring the sky-high cost of filling up your tank, back down to earth.

Some grocery stores, however, may be finding their programs are too popular for their own good. Giant Food Stores in the Northeastern U.S. has been taking some heat for tweaking its gas rewards program recently, right in the middle of the busy summer season. Among the changes: reducing the maximum fill-up from 30 gallons, to 25. Giant is spinning it as a “fairness” issue, so the owner of a gas-sipping Prius and a gas-guzzling SUV have a “more equal opportunity to save.”

Many customers aren’t buying that explanation. “Just admit that you don’t want to give out as many rewards anymore,” one commenter on Giant’s Facebook page wrote. “With so much competition for shoppers, why would they mess with one of the major things drawing people to their store?” wondered another. “Sad to see you are making this drastic change,” another commenter wrote. “It compensates for your high prices on certain items.”

And there’s the rub – supermarkets can afford to let you pay less for gas, as long as they get you to spend more on groceries. Some experts even decry the rise of the gas rewards madness, pointing out that it would much more beneficial for shoppers to pay full price for gas, and get lower prices on food instead.

And that has many shoppers and drivers opting out of the whole gas rewards game altogether. Despite the fact that Kroger, Costco and the others are ranked as America’s “favorite” places to fuel up, the Market Force survey finds that “even so, consumers more often than not end up frequenting traditional gas stations because of convenience.” In other words, they may prefer to get their gas at Kroger, but if they’re running low, they’re not going to drive past half a dozen gas stations to get there.

They may not have fuel perks and gas rewards and points for purchasing products, but traditional gas stations still have one advantage – they’re everywhere. Being popular is nice, but when it comes to the bottom line, ubiquity still counts for something.

2 Comments

  1. PS: There’s one store that offers gas points but boy, what a rip off. I don’t even bother with them. Then there’s another store that offers cents off gas, but it’s on things I buy all the time, anyway. Gotta really watch these days.

    Deals ain’t always deals.

  2. I don’t prefer it, unless it’s with gas points. Otherwise, corner store for me.

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