Pump-top TVs Pushing Traffic In-store

Three privately held companies operate more than 20,000 television screens at thousands of gas stations coast to coast, The Associated Press reported, and those TVs may be driving shoppers to other in-store offerings.

"We try to bring some fun to the pump," Roy Reeves, vice president of sales and marketing for California-based PumpTop TV, told The Associated Press. His company provides screens and content at nearly 600 stations nationwide.

The TVs are bringing in added revenue for gas retailers who are seeing margins shrink because of an increase in fuel load costs and credit card fees, The Associated Press reported. When the owners advertise anything from candy bars to car washes on the TVs, they say in-store sales rise compared to other stations without the screens.

Gas Station TV says that in tracking its retailers’ sales, stores with screens installed on pumps report selling 75% more car washes and 69% more snacks if those items are advertised. The other two pump TV companies reported similar sales increases.

"I actually have several customers a day saying, ‘Hey, I saw your ad on TV as I was pumping gas,’" said David Yegenian, who has eight screens at his Tustin, California, service station. "In this difficult time, we have to make ends meet however possible."

TV programming at the pumps varies by location and provider. PumpTop TV provides real-time traffic maps, local sports scores, headlines and weather, while FuelCast carries trivia and NBC content. Gas Station TV broadcasts CBS programming and carried an American Idol-type search earlier this year for a host to anchor some segments.

All three companies offer heavy rotations of 15-second ads — oil companies are staple advertisers — and all pump "networks" say they will roll out more screens in new markets later this summer. None have released revenue figures, but all say they are growing.

These companies pay gas station owners rent in exchange for placing the flat screens above the pumps, and the retailers can also advertise specials or products inside the convenience store.

Once a customer starts the pump, the TV comes on and stays on. There’s no way to change the channel or mute the volume, so people usually tune in.

"It’s a natural pause point in people’s day," said David Leider of Detroit, Mich.-based Gas Station TV. "The customer is tied to the screen with an 8-foot rubber hose for five minutes."

It also appears people remember what they see on the pump TVs: according to a Gas Station TV and Nielsen Media Research study, 70% of the people who watched the ads remembered the products advertised, and 89% of consumers surveyed were willing to buy a product after seeing an ad at the pump.

"You can push people into the store," says John McLean, CEO of Fuelcast, which is based in Santa Monica, California.

"One of the pitfalls for convenience store owners these days is that people pay at the pump," said Richard Divine, head of the marketing department at Central Michigan University. "People don’t want to go inside the store anymore. But at the gas pump, you’ve got a captive audience."

Orlando Garcia, a Miami engineer, didn’t even look at the TV screen as it broadcast a Norwegian Cruise Lines ad at a Shell station on a recent workday. He was too busy pumping $75 into the tank of his Range Rover.

"It doesn’t bother me, but I’m not really paying much attention to it," the 37-year-old Garcia, a Miami engineer, told The Associated Press. "$4.15 (a gallon) gas, now that bothers me."

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