GasBuddy Offers Beacons, Dashboard to Gas-Station Convenience Stores

By Claire Swedberg

The free beacon solution is designed to help retailers increase pump-to-store traffic by delivering personalized ads, promotions and discounts to GasBuddy's users.

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GasBuddy, a company that provides retail gas-price information via its website and app, has launched a new functionality with its service that lets gasoline retailers and consumer product brands deliver promotional offers to customers fueling up at their pumps. As part of the solution, GasBuddy is distributing free Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to any of the 150,000 gas-station convenience stores in the United States, as well as to similar Canadian businesses. Those beacons will enable brands and the stations themselves to push promotional content to customers using the GasBuddy app. To date, the app—available at the Google Play, Apple App Store, Windows Phone and BlackBerry websites—has been downloaded 52 million times in the United States and Canada. The app lists current gas prices for 150,000 locations.

Since late summer, GasBuddy has provided approximately 1,100 stations with beacons, says Greg Fox, the company’s VP of business development. GasBuddy expects to reach 5,000 stations by the end of this year, he adds.

The GasBuddy beacon, which is powered by a USB adapter that plugs into a standard electrical outlet, is installed somewhere near a store’s front window.

GasBuddy was launched in 2000 as a website where motorists could sign in to view gas prices in their area, based on zip code or city. In 2010, it released an app that provides individuals with prices of gasoline at stations based on geolocation data provided by their smartphones. Each station’s prices are collected from the consumers themselves; while at a station, a customer can input gas prices and earn points to join a lottery to win a $100 gas card.

However, Fox says, there is another sales opportunity for gas stations that isn’t being leveraged with the app—and that’s in-store sales. Currently, he notes, most gas-station convenience stores advertise merchandise and promotional offers via physical ads, such as “pump toppers,” counter displays and window clings. “That’s very stale,” he states, “very old-school.”

GasBuddy is now offering a much more modern solution, Fox says. The app was already delivering coupons from participating consumer product brands—such as a discount on energy drinks or snacks. However, to make the coupons (or any other promotional content) targeted specifically to the consumer at the location where that motorist is fueling, GasBuddy began looking into beacon technology.

Geolocation technology, Fox explains, provides location data but draws heavily on a user’s phone battery, and the location data offered is not very precise. Therefore, he says, if two stations are across the street from each other, the system might be unable to determine which one the user is standing in front of.

GasBuddy met with several beacon solution providers, but ultimately opted to develop its own beacon program. This consisted of beacons manufactured by a third party, as well as a custom dashboard that stations and brands could use to set up coupons, promotions or messages for consumers.

In November 2014, the company launched a three-month pilot in the Philadelphia area, in partnership with 42 Sunoco stations. It divided the stations into three categories: those for which app users would view the regular price of two energy drinks for $5, being sold at the convenience store, but receive no special offers; those offering app users a free water with the purchase of two energy drinks at the same price; and those for which no promotional content was provided at all. Thirty-one percent of those in the first group entered the store after receiving the message, 46 percent of those being offered the free waters entered and only 26 percent of those offered no content entered.

The Bluetooth beacons enable brands and gas stations to push discount coupons and other promotional offers to customers using the GasBuddy app.

In April of this year, the company deployed a second three-month pilot in Minnesota at 65 stations, achieving similar results.

Based on those pilots’ results, GasBuddy began offering the beacons at no cost in late summer. The beacons are powered by USB adapters that plug into standard electrical outlets. The company recommends that a store install the beacon somewhere near a front window, where it can transmit at a distance of up to about 300 feet.

The retailer has free access to a dashboard that lists any promotions being offered there by consumer brand owners whose merchandise is sold at that store. There is no fee for the store to provide these brand offers. However, if the retailer wishes to include its own messages specific to that particular store—such as one free cup of coffee with the purchase of a donut—it would pay a fee for each message viewed by a GasBuddy app user.

Since developing the beacon-based solution, GasBuddy has been working with several major providers of product brands typically sold at gas-station convenience stores, as well as having discussions with others about offering promotions via the beacon system on GasBuddy’s app. Those promotions can be offered at all stores selling a particular brand’s products, or per specific regions, or by specific retailers (such as 7-Eleven).

GasBuddy sends an e-mail to any store for which a brand is recommending the promotion, informing that store about the promotion being offered. The store must then accept or decline that offer. In that way, retailers can not only be aware of the offer, but also be prepared if they need to acquire additional merchandise.

A consumer must have the GasBuddy app downloaded on his or her phone in order to receive the beacon-triggered offers. When a shopper arrives at a participating gas station, his or her phone captures the beacon’s signal. The phone’s app determines the individual’s location (based on the beacon’s ID number) and displays promotional offers. The user must then swipe the touch screen to access a promotion’s details. This could include coupons that the customer would then present to the sales clerk inside the store.

GasBuddy’s Greg Fox

To date, Fox reports, the system is achieving a 52 percent view rate of the promotions being offered via the beacons. He says it is still too early to determine the sales lift that stores are experiencing, if any, though he considers the high view rate encouraging.

“There will be more versions” of the solution as it is further deployed, Fox says. “We’re constantly asking [stores and brands], ‘What else would you like to do with this technology?'” For instance, he says, the app could, in the future, track consumer behavior. If an individual regularly swipes promotions related to a specific brand of soft drink, the system could target soft-drink notifications to that person’s phone. “We’re going to constantly make the app better for our users.”

The solution also provides data for the brands and stores that could be used for the purpose of business analysis. For example, the data could help determine which stores see the most sales during a promotion, or which brands’ promotions are the most popular at a given store location.

While 1,100 stores are using the beacons thus far, Fox says, GasBuddy is in the process of deploying beacons at about 3,000 more.

The app, Fox adds, “is such a powerful medium” for advertising, since users are typically standing idly at the pump, looking at their phones, at the time that the promotional content is offered.