Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

How Americans Pick Gasoline Stations

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

How Americans Pick Gasoline Stations

Article excerpt

By Cyndia Zwahlen Los Angeles Daily News Jay Beller has been buying gas at an Exxon station in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills for five years and even though the prices might not be the cheapest in town, he doesn't have any desire to fill up anywhere else.

``I like that guy Marty - he sings. Great personality,'' said Beller, pointing out the station attendant standing nearby.

``They're not all bottled up in one of those 24-hour (cashier) cages,'' Beller said. ``They come out to the island and say hello. Thrifty (has) a good price, but I can spend a buck more for a tank of gas. I won't miss it.''

Oil companies and independent marketers alike have spent millions of dollars trying to figure out how Beller and the rest of the American driving public decide where to buy their gas.

What steers drivers to one set of pumps over another can be as obvious as location or price.

Other factors are less tangible. Brand loyalty, an oil company's reputation and consumer confidence in the economy can all factor into gasoline buying patterns. Reading customers' minds is not easy, say those who do it for a living.

``The motivations that are driving the consumer are getting more complex,'' said Larry Moore, vice president of The NPD Group of New York and head of its automotive petroleum division.

One problem: Consumer motivation is a moving target. What role each factor plays in the purchasing decision changes from week to week depending on what's happening in the market and what type of buyer the driver is: price sensitive or price oblivious.

``It's not an absolutely precise science,'' said Roger Zink, southwest region marketing manager for Chevron USA Inc. in La Habra, Calif.

Gasoline marketers disagree as to whether price or station location is most important to consumers.

``Location, the convenience of getting to the place, is number one,'' said Moore, citing the results of his survey.

Officials at Atlantic Richfield Co., the lowest-priced major marketer, say price is key.

``Price is the single most important ingredient in consumers' minds,'' said George H. Babikian, president of Arco Products Co. …

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