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English Español GasBuddy: COVID-19 created a new gas-buying landscape

New group of budget-minded fuel-buyers emerge consisting of city-dwellers-turned-car-owners, shift from night-to-day fill-ups, increased demand for diesel and more expensive fuels among the changes occurring in the $600 billion fuel and convenience industry.



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COVID-19 forced tens-of-millions of Americans to work from home, moved schooling onto screens and into kitchens, cancelled international travel and overall upended routines. GasBuddy has issued a new analysis that examines how recent events have changed the most ingrained routine for American families, buying gas, including a new set of customers. 

The average number of fuel transactions saw a much smaller dip than anticipated, only decreasing by 6% from June - August compared to the previous summer. This is largely due to the growth in car sales, especially used cars. The virus created a new group of unexpected car owners made up of consumers who reside in cities with robust transit systems but are now looking for ways to avoid trains, buses and ride-share during the coronavirus pandemic; and consumers who have recently left the city for the suburbs and are in need of a form of transportation, according to the report

From night to day

The pandemic-led shift to telework changed the times in which drivers frequented the gas station year-over-year, with more drivers filling up during typical “work hours.” There is a 12% increase in gas-purchases during late-morning hours from 9am-12pm, and a 27% decline in evening hours from 6pm-12am. The early-morning commute was also affected, with a 12% decline in fuel purchases between 4am and 7am.

The trend was more pronounced in sprawling metros like Los Angeles where midday fill-ups from 10am-2pm increased by 12%, while evening fill-ups after 6pm decreased by 16% and early-morning fill-ups from 4am-7am decreased by 16%.

“If remote work becomes a long-term reality, this could reshape the U.S. c-store industry from demand levels to consumer habits,” said GasBuddy head petroleum analyst, Patrick De Haan. “Removing limitations like having to commute to work or picking up the kids from soccer practice opens up the window of time as to when people run their errands, as evident by GasBuddy data that clearly shows a significant shift in when fuel transactions are occurring.”

Fridays remained the busiest day to fill up from 2019 to 2020.

“If remote work becomes a long-term reality, this could reshape the U.S. c-store industry from demand levels to consumer habits,” said GasBuddy head petroleum analyst, Patrick De Haan. “Removing limitations like having to commute to work or picking up the kids from soccer practice opens up the window of time as to when people run their errands, as evident by GasBuddy data that clearly shows a significant shift in when fuel transactions are occurring.”

Rise in higher-grade fuel and diesel

Gas prices during the months of June through August were as much as 40-80c/gal lower than the same months in 2019, likely the cause for consumers to purchase more expensive, higher-grade fuels including midgrade (+19%) and premium (+8%). Overall regular grade fuel purchases decreased by 3%.

In addition to higher-grade fuel purchases, there was a notable increase of 6% in retail diesel fuel purchases, likely caused by the surge of RV travel during the summer.

“Record low fuel prices and little-to-no air travel led consumers to explore alternative and perceived safer vacation options, including road trips and RV rentals,” says De Haan. “If the pandemic continues, this trend will likely hold through the holidays and into the New Year. We could see increased sales in vehicle maintenance items as motorists get more out of their vehicles.”

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