Society’s idea of cleanliness has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Customers now associate safety with hygiene and want “safe” spaces to carry out their daily needs, such as refueling their vehicle or having a sandwich. We speak with three experts to see how gas stations and convenience stores have adapted to this change.
The 2020 global pandemic has accelerated existing trends in the gas station market – from mobile payments to cleanliness. As stations now become multi-service hubs including cafes and food courts, experience is increasingly the main driver for attracting and retaining customers. A big part of that customer experience now is cleanliness, especially as COVID-19 has reinforced the pre-existing belief that hygiene equals safety. Retailers around the world have announced their intention to make train stations “safe” through the application of hygiene practices.
“When COVID hit, all retail channels quickly pivoted to help their customers feel safe returning to their stores. As essential services, convenience stores have become a lifeline for essential items. To meet the increased need for consumer safety, distributors have reinforced hygiene and cleanliness standards. Clean stores attract more customers because they convey safety and security,” says Mike Zahajko, executive vice president of sales at CAF Outdoor Cleaning.
Studies by CAF Outdooor and GasBuddy support the idea that cleanliness is a determining factor for customers to give positive reviews of a site, along with friendliness and food availability. According to a Study 2021 by CAF Outdoor on Europa.
Various markets around the world have seen a major improvement in cleanliness inside stores as fresh food and beverage categories gain space. The pandemic has also cast an eye on the exterior of train stations. “For convenience store shoppers, the outdoor fueling area is usually the first and last impression. Dirty diesel nozzles and fuel stains at the pump can negatively impact a retailer’s ability to convert fuel sales into store or restaurant sales. In the United States, half of all convenience store customers never enter the store, which means the only experience they have with your brand is at the pump,” adds Zahajko.
Gas stations will become service centers in the (not so distant) future. With customers collecting their laundry, sending emails from the food court or having a coffee in the sun while charging their electric vehicle, the demand for clean spots will only grow. The NACS Consumer Fuels Survey 2022 found that 74% of drivers say they will drive five minutes to their favorite store – experience is king.
Clean hands, less risk
Long before COVID, studies were already showing that fuel nozzle handles were one of the most contaminated surfaces the public regularly held: 11,000 times dirtier than toilet seats and contaminated with reportable pathogens. . In the UK an average fuel nozzle can be handled by over 200 people each week, each gripping it securely for up to 3 minutes.
According to GripHero, a British company specializing in fuel gloves, the pandemic has exposed already dangerous surfaces and made people think twice about what they are handling. The company has seen a significant increase in demand over the past two years.
“We have seen a shift away from disinfectants, which have their own dangers and can trigger skin conditions, towards preventing contact in the first place with a barrier such as a glove. Alarmingly, an independent study commissioned in the fall of 2020 of 2,000 drivers showed that 55% of drivers had a harder time finding gloves because some operators moved gloves away from pumps and hid gloves in the kiosk to dissuade customers from using them,” says Luke Jenkins, Customer Account Manager at GripHero.
And the toilets?
Just like the cleanliness of the squares, the toilets have never been considered a priority. And despite significant improvement over the past few years – integration within the store, cleaner facilities – it remains a problem for most retailers. Sixty percent of customers agree that public spaces such as train stations, gas stations, shopping malls and municipalities give too little importance to the quality and hygiene of toilets; while 62% say they rate it more critically due to COVID-19, according to a survey by CENT toilets.
“This has highlighted the accelerated development of new design standards that are rapidly becoming standard for all public toilets, primarily focused on preventing virus transmission. This includes improved ventilation, air humidity, modified layouts, antibacterial finishes and touchless solutions to avoid direct hand contact with taps, flush plates and urinals,” explains Mariëlle Romeijn, founder and brand manager of ONE HUNDRED, a Dutch company developing premium and pay-to-use public toilets.
Evolutions in mobility, technological advances, changes in consumer behavior and demographics have an impact on the transformation of service stations. How do toilets and hygiene fit into this transition?
“Visitors are constantly looking for quick and easy solutions that simplify their professional and personal lives. Awareness of the importance of prevention and maintaining people’s well-being is growing every day. Everything from hardware to lifestyle these days is cloud-connected and AI-driven, but toilets remain an untapped realm. So, in addition to the accelerated implementation of ‘new normal’ design rules, the future of public restrooms will be influenced by developments and innovations that will become hubs of health and wellness,” Romeijn adds. .
As with digital payments and on-demand delivery, the pandemic has pushed the fuel and convenience industry to improve its hygiene standards – diesel stains on the floor, dirty toilets and filthy coffee counters will quickly become a thing of the past. This trend offers retailers the opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors and continue to grow. As Romeijn says, “Hygiene was not a handicap before. It is now.”
Article by Oscar Smith Diamante