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July 10, 2024

Convenience Turned Advertising: Ordering at the Pump

The way to bring customers into the store is bringing the store to them.

In today’s fuel industry, operating a full forecourt and c-store can be an increasingly difficult challenge. The rise of electric vehicles (EV) is ready to disrupt the market and drive gas station owners to quickly adapt. Beyond that, station operators face heavy competition, slim profit margins and uncertain fuel demand that makes it difficult to plan for the future. With so much uncertainty, the value of in-store sales becomes even more important.

Considering high inflation is stretching consumers’ budgets, you may expect shoppers to be less willing to purchase high-margin c-store items. However, a study by McKinsey recently found that middle-income consumers plan to spend on discretionary items at a rate comparable to high-income consumers (Adams et al., 2024). Recent data has also highlighted that c-stores are on consumers’ radars for potential spending on dining. Between 2019 and 2023, c-stores’ share of discretionary dining visits grew from 24.2% of market share to 27.1%, according to a white paper from (, 2024).

With consumers open to spending and exploring, now is the perfect time to capture the developing market of shoppers interested in c-stores as a chosen dining experience instead of a necessity. But how can c-store owners gain the attention of these customers on the go?

To answer this question, we can analyze why c-store visitors choose to visit a c-store over other dining establishments and the psychology of advertising at the pump.

Convenience Turned Advertising: Ordering at the Pump

Time is Money

Traditionally, consumers choose to shop at c-stores to save time. A survey from CSP Daily News discovered that 57% of consumers say quickly getting in and out is the most important factor in creating a convenient experience (CSP Daily News, 2018). Our annual DFS Future of Fueling report also surveyed over 1000 consumers and discovered that 50% would switch stations for a significantly enhanced experience, ideas for which included faster visits and multitasking capabilities (DFS, 2023).

C-store owners should therefore aim to reduce average transaction time. But rushing customers off the forecourt may feel counterintuitive for owners who want to draw people into the c-store. After all, the slower the gas pumps, the longer the ads get to play.

But what if you could start a transaction before the customer even enters the store, except without the forethought of a mobile order? Recent technological advancements in self-service kiosk and dispenser integration can create a way to speed up customers’ experiences and drive in-store sales during the short time visitors spend at the forecourt.

Data from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) found that the average time it takes a customer to complete a c-store transaction is 3 to 4 minutes. The typical shopper spends 35 seconds walking from the car to the store, 71 seconds selecting items, 42 seconds waiting to pay, 21 seconds paying and 44 seconds leaving (NACS, 2024).

Instead, with self-service kiosk capabilities, ordering at the dispenser while pumping gas could potentially reduce transaction time. By using the time the customer would already spend at the pump to select items, c-store visitors could save over a minute, or 30-40%, of the current average transaction.

This process also creates a similar experience to in-store or curbside pickup services, which have been a major time and money saver for consumers, small businesses and corporations since the pandemic.

Let Advertising Work for You

While this option makes sense timewise, there are also many psychological reasons that self-service kiosks at the pump work well as a tool for customers and advertising for owners.

Beyond the time-saving benefits, customers enjoy self-service kiosks because it reduces interaction anxiety. People who fear judgment for their order choices or incorrect pronunciation of an item don’t have to worry about a smooth checkout experience. They don’t have to consider the time they are taking from other customers in line behind them and can feel free to browse, make changes or quickly check out to speed up their visit.

Self-service kiosks can also reduce decision fatigue. The typical c-store shopper passes by 606 individual product category displays during an in-store trip (Explorer Research, 2024), which can be overwhelming for people just trying to get in and out. Instead, by having a few items initially suggested at the pump, customers can make decisions quicker without weighing every option available.

This concept of suggesting items is beneficial for station owners making advertising decisions as well. Studies show that people judge their options based on the first item they see, also known as decision anchoring. By displaying prepared hot foods first, for example, owners can control what food options customers compare their decision to and increase the likelihood they choose the first few items displayed.

Kiosk technology has a proven track record of success in this way. Multinational fast food company Yum Brands found that average kiosk sales see 10% higher spend than front counter sales (Maze, 2023), partly due to psychological determinants like decision anchoring, upselling and reduced interaction anxiety.

Instant gratification is another factor that promotes purchases at the pump. There is a vast amount of research that proves the psychological effectiveness of impulse buying, and the same principles apply here. Spontaneous urges to spend money are innate and kiosk and dispenser integration is especially effective for triggering that urge.

A similar experience would be social commerce, or shopping through social media. Users can find items and immediately buy them without leaving the platform. In the same way, c-store customers can look for items without leaving the pump. The difference is that not only can they order easily, but c-store customers can also get their purchases quickly without having to wait days for delivery like social media users.

Finally, the technology of the dispenser and kiosk integration is also impactful in influencing purchase decisions. A study from the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services found that touchscreens increase consumers’ preference for products that bring them happiness or pleasure over products they absolutely need and have considered purchasing (Zhu & Meyer, 2017). Just like social commerce, users are encouraged by the interface to make choices that create positive feelings and make them quickly.

Owners should be careful not to become the very problem they are trying to solve though. If too many upsell or special offers appear, kiosks could potentially slow consumers down during their purchase and cost them the time they had hoped to save. However, kiosk solutions that merely suggest and put key products at the forefront can provide a good middle ground to benefit owners and consumers alike.

Convenience Turned Advertising: Ordering at the Pump


In conclusion, the option to self-order from the pump, easily pick up purchases in-store and shorten trips while still selling in-store products benefits consumers as well as store operators and owners. Customers achieve the quick turnaround they look for in a c-store visit while fulfilling all their fuel and food needs. In the same vein, owners can expedite food preparation, facilitate a positive customer experience and draw visitors to the store — including ones that may not have purchased anything before — through strategic advertising.

Convenience Turned Advertising: Ordering at the Pump

Going forward, self-service kiosks at the pump are just one of many considerations c-store owners may have to make as technology and consumer behavior change, but looking at the potential for in-store sales indicates it may be an essential one.

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