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From oil and gas to retail


By Joanne Carew, ITWeb Cape-based contributor

If you think that petrol and diesel is all there is at fuel stations, think again. These locations have transformed into retail meccas, and technology is playing a key role in enabling these brands to offer the best possible experience.

If you’ve ever stopped at a dingy petrol station on a road trip, you’ll understand the value of a well kitted out service station. Equipped with franchised fast food outlets, playgrounds, ATMs, free WiFi and ample petrol pumps, these locations have transformed stopping for petrol into a retail experience.

Speaking to IOL earlier this year, Vishal Premlall, national director of the South African Petroleum Retailers Association (SAPRA), said fuel stations are being designed to cater to consumers who would otherwise have to veer off route and visit a suburban shopping mall, to get what they need. In fact, Premlall suggests that modern petrol stations are embracing an entirely new business model – one that places the customer, rather than the car, firmly at the centre.

Nebula CTO Andre Witte agrees. Over the course of his time at the Cape Town technology expense management company, Witte has worked with four of the big oil and gas brands. “What we need to remember is that petrol stations still have a massive advantage when it comes to convenience,” he says. “If you run out of bread, it’s easy enough to quickly pop down to your nearest garage, at any time of day, to grab a loaf.”

Understanding this advantage, we’re seeing more and more oil and gas companies investing heavily in technologies that enable them to boost this area of their business, incorporating digital retail solutions that offer greater convenience. It’s also important to point out that where a filling station’s margins may be controlled when it comes to the sale of petrol and diesel, they’re not controlled on the retail side so it makes sense for these businesses to scale up this aspect of their business. “Their competitive advantage is not about their fuel offering, it’s about everything they offer customers on top of filling their car.”

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