Shifting consumer habits are causing a sea change in the retail landscape. And businesses that are unprepared for this change – including gas station retailers – could risk getting drowned out by the competition that more quickly adapts to this reality.
Driving this change is a group of more-connected consumers with higher expectations of what they want from their shopping experiences. They want to be able to shop using mobile, online and offline channels and have those experiences be seamless.
Among the most influential drivers of retail change is a subset of consumers PYMNTS identifies as “Bridge Millennials.” Between 30 and 40 years old, this group is more likely to have a college degree, be employed and earn higher salaries than other consumers. It also spends approximately $2,225 per year on retail purchases, which is more than $830 more than baby boomers and nearly $300 more than younger millennials.
Technology is an essential element of Bridge Millennials’ shopping processes. PYMNTS found 48 percent of them prefer to buy products online and 17 percent use mobile phones to purchase apparel and accessories. While most love shopping in stores, Bridge Millennials also use their mobile devices like a compass, researching products and making decisions on the go.
This group is also more likely to abandon a merchant than other consumers, lending significant weight to securing its loyalty, and putting tremendous pressure on retailers to pursue strategies that can keep these influential consumers happy.
While Bridge Millennials are proving to be powerful bellwethers in retail, they also wield just as strong an influence elsewhere — including the gas pump. They use their mobile phones for a wide range of purposes related to gas purchases, including finding a nearby station, searching for the cheapest prices, getting directions and accessing discounts.
Bridge Millennials use their mobile phones for a wide range of purposes related to buying gas at the gas pump, including finding a nearby station, searching for the cheapest prices, getting directions, accessing discounts and more.
Gas merchants looking to win over Bridge Millennials’ business need a mobile-first strategy that delivers the app functions these consumers and others are seeking. Mobile apps are an essential part of Bridge Millennials’ day-to-day shopping experiences, with 66 percent using them to pay and 64 percent using them to order products. These consumers tap mobile apps at an equal or higher rate than other groups, using them to find product reviews, access loyalty rewards, scan products in stores and find targeted coupons.
For the recent Paying at the Pump Report™, PYMNTS surveyed more than 10,000 consumers about their mobile app usage during their most recent gas shopping experiences. Twenty-two percent of our sample respondents were Bridge Millennials, and the following Deep Dive examines the gas purchasing features that matter most to them — including how their attitudes could reshape the routine gas station pilgrimage for all consumers.
A Premium On App-Based Payments
Bridge Millennials make more visits to gas stations than other consumers, and they’re more likely to use apps to make their gas station purchases.
It’s commonly perceived that millennials do not own cars, but a look at their gas-buying habits suggests otherwise. PYMNTS found that 64 percent of Bridge Millennials report buying gas at least once per week, compared to 58 percent of the sample. They also buy gas daily at twice the rate of other consumers, 12 percent compared to 6 percent.
Bridge Millennials use mobile devices to research and make decisions when retail shopping, and they demonstrate the same tendencies when shopping for gas. Roughly 39 percent use mobile apps to find the best gas prices, 31 percent use them to find gas stations and 21 percent use them to get directions, regardless of the apps’ ability to enable payments at the pump.
Bridge Millennials also want to use their smartphones to pay for gas at the pump. PYMNTS found 70 percent of them consider it “very” or “extremely” important to be able to do so using an app, compared to 61 percent of the broader sample.
Having the ability to pay for gas using a mobile app may rank high among Bridge Millennials’ priorities, but very few (6 percent) have actually used apps to pay for gas in the past year, as seen in Figure 2. This could suggest that the current selection of mobile apps is lacking in the last mile of enabling at-the-pump payments.
A gap between low app usage to pay for gas and a strong desire to do so points to an opportunity for gas retailers. Bridge Millennials are already using mobile apps to find the best gas prices and the nearest gas stations, so offering a mobile app that enables payments at the pump could prove to be the missing link.
How Mobile Drives Bridge Millennials’ Gas-Buying Habits
Most Bridge Millennials do not use mobile apps to pay for gas, but they do use them for other aspects of gas purchasing.
The largest share said they valued mobile apps’ convenience (62 percent), apps that can be used to access rewards and loyalty programs (60 percent) and those that can deliver gas pump price discounts (56 percent).
Finding savings and the lowest gas prices are Bridge Millennials’ top priorities when it comes to gas apps. As Figure 3 outlines, 85 percent of them said the ability to receive price discounts was “very” or “extremely” important, compared to 80 percent for the sample. Other crucial features included finding the best gas prices, locating a gas station, accessing loyalty pr
ograms and getting directions.
While Bridge Millennials’ mobile app usage to pay for gas is low, PYMNTS found this group to be more interested in using the function than the rest of the sample. Seventy percent of Bridge Millennials said being able to pay for gas using an app was “very” or “extremely” important, as seen in Figure 3. This indicates a group of consumers that could be counted on to use mobile apps at the gas pump more often than other consumers.
An Opportunity To Boost Bridge Millennials’ Gas-Related Spending
PYMNTS also found mobile app usage could encourage Bridge Millennials to extend their shopping experiences beyond the gas pump. The survey found that this group is more likely to make additional purchases at a gas station’s convenience store or quick-service restaurant (QSR) than other consumers.
As Figure 5 outlines, 24 percent of Bridge Millennials said they always pay for additional goods when using a smartphone app to purchase gas, compared to 18 percent of the sample. Twenty-eight percent said they pay for other items most of the time, slightly more than the rest of the sample at 26 percent. These purchasing habits signal a strong opportunity for gas station retailers looking to lure Bridge Millennials into their convenience stores.
Even without mobile apps, the opportunity to bring in more Bridge Millennial customers is still strong. The group is more likely to stop by a gas station’s convenience store than other age brackets, no matter how they pay for gas. Nineteen percent of them reported always making additional purchases when buying gas, compared to 12 percent of the sample, and 18 percent said they make additional purchases most of the time, compared to another 12 percent.
Bridge Millennials Vs. High Income Millennials
For the Paying at the Pump Report™, PYMNTS also considered the gas purchasing habits of another millennial consumer group: High Income Millennials.
These consumers made up just 7 percent of the overall sample. While a small share, High Income Millennials could prove as disruptive to the gas purchasing process as Bridge Millennials. They have more money, buy gas frequently and are more likely to use mobile apps when purchasing gas than their Bridge Millennial counterparts.
It’s important to understand what makes a High Income Millennial. Members of this group were born between 1978 and 1995, putting them on the slightly younger side, with an average age of 33, compared to 35 for Bridge Millennials. They also earn a higher average annual salary, and are more likely to be married, have a job and hold a college degree.
Table 1: Bridge Millennials Vs. High Income Millennials
In terms of gas purchase frequency, Bridge and High Income Millennials exhibit like behaviors. A similar rate of each buys gas once per day once per week.
The results vary slightly when it comes to mobile app usage at the pump, however. Half of the High Income Millennials group said it uses mobile apps for approximately 75 percent of its gas purchases, compared to 41 percent of Bridge Millennials. Twenty percent of the latter reported making 90 percent or more of its gas purchases using a mobile app, as did just 12 percent of the former.
Overall, High Income Millennials are more likely to use mobile apps for gas purchases than those in the Bridge group. Only 33 percent of the former reported not using apps for gas purchases, compared to 39 percent of our Bridge Millennial respondents.
Both groups show similar usage patterns in terms of purchasing gas. Just 7 percent of High Income Millennials and 6 percent of Bridge Millennials have used a mobile app to pay for gas in the past year.
Like Bridge Millennials, those in the High Income group consider the ability to pay for gas using mobile apps to be an important feature. Seventy percent of both cited this as “very” or “extremely” important for an app.
Also like Bridge Millennials, saving money is High Income Millennials’ primary motive for using mobile apps for gas purchases. They cite the ability to receive price discounts (83 percent) followed closely by finding the best price (82 percent) as their most important features.
High Income Millennials are more likely to use a mobile app for a wider range of gas shopping activities, as outlined in Figure 10. These include ordering products, perusing reviews, finding loyalty and reward programs, scanning products in stores and accessing targeted coupons. Bridge Millennials, on the other hand, are slightly more likely to use them to pay for products.
Forty-three percent of High Income Millennials said they would visit a gas station more often if these features were available, compared to 38 percent of Bridge Millennials. Fifty-five percent of the former said they would visit a gas station at about the same rate, however, compared to 60 percent of the latter.
While potential mobile app adoption is strong for both groups, certain factors could deter them from using mobile apps. Both are concerned about the risks associated with data and money theft. Bridge Millennials show slightly more concern, with 50 percent citing data theft and 36 percent noting money theft, compared to 47 percent and 35 percent for High Income Millennials, respectively.
Smartphones have become the new age compass for consumers when buying gas. That’s especially true for Bridge Millennials, a group that uses its smartphones to find the best prices, locate the nearest stations and get directions, among other things. A significant share of these consumers also put a premium on the ability to pay for gas using a mobile app, which could help gas station owners and merchants create a roadmap to lure more connected, loyal consumer to the pump.
There also exists an opportunity for gas station retailers to the entice these consumers by focusing on Bridge Millennials’ mobile app experiences. While mobile app adoption has largely lagged at the gas pump, the high rate of importance Bridge and High Income Millennials place on such apps could prompt merchants to prioritize the development of a solution that will grab their attention.
Smartphones are expected to play an essential role in both guiding Bridge and High Income Millennials to the gas pump and informing their future purchasing decisions, meaning gas retailers would be wise to concentrate mobile efforts on these groups. Consumers already use mobile apps to find the best prices and get to the nearest station. The last mile on which retailers need to focus is helping them to pay for their gas using these same apps.