COVID-19 Upends the Gas-Buying Landscape

A new group of budget-minded fuel buyers has emerged, along with a shift to daytime fill-ups. 

September 30, 2020

BOSTON—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’s new analysis examines how recent events have changed the most ingrained routine for American families—buying gas—including a new set of customers.

GasBuddy examined fuel transactions from the company’s Pay with GasBuddy savings program used by more than 800,000 Americans, from June 1 to August 31, 2020, compared with the previous year.

The average number of fuel transactions saw a much smaller dip than anticipated, only decreasing by 6% from June to August compared with the previous summer. This is largely due to the growth in car sales, especially used cars.

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

The trend was more pronounced in sprawling metros like Los Angeles, where midday fill-ups from 10 a.m.  to 2 p.m. increased by 12%, while evening fill-ups after 6 p.m. decreased by 16% and early-morning fill-ups from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. decreased by 16%. Fridays remained the busiest days 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 Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy head petroleum analyst, in a press release. “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.”

Gas prices during the months of June through August were as much as 40 to 80 cents/gallon 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.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.