What began as an experiment in credit card convenience is changing the modern gas station into a one-stop, fast-dash drive through.
Introduced two years ago, pumps that let people pay for gas outside without dealing with the clerk inside are becoming the gas industry’s favorite customer convenience.
“We see more and more people filling up with the card-reader pumps,” said Post Falls station operator Bill Jones.
“People don’t want buying gas to be complicated. They want to get it and go,” said Jones.
Jones and others who run stations with card-reading pumps say at least 60 percent of their drivers pay for gas using bank debit or credit cards.
He’s seen people buy more fill-ups of gas since he switched to the card devices, plus larger purchases per visit inside the store as well.
“Those card pumps reduce the time people have to wait in a line to pay for gas, so they spend more time shopping for a snack,” said Bob Comfort, manager of Station Maintenance and Equipment. The Spokane firm installs and services gas pumps and other equipment.
Before long, the card-reading pump technology will branch out and give drivers a whole new set of choices, say industry observers.
Already, three Spokane HiCo convenience stations let drivers pay for a carwash at the pump instead of inside the store.
Within two or three years, other choices will be available with the swipe of a card - fast food, desserts, even state fishing licenses.
“You’ll be able to get a McDonald’s burger or get a lube job, maybe something from TCBY and pay at the pump,” Comfort predicted.
For some critics, this is the next step in the banking industry’s plan to enslave people through a universal credit-card database.
Others say the new systems simply save time for busy people.
“Ten years or so ago, people had everything done for them at the station,” said Jones, operator of Ross Point Chevron in Post Falls. “It’s reaching the point where people now can do everything for themselves.”
It’s clear that after initial hesitation, more customers prefer the credit card method when paying for gas.
“It took me seeing it a few times before I felt comfortable using that card-reader,” said Spokane attorney Guy Zajonc. “What held me back was it had instructions. For a minute, it made me think about programming a VCR.”
The card systems now in place are practically error-free and as simple to use as an automated bank-cash machine.
Their growing popularity is bound to invite even wider use. The likely next step will be to offer a variety of products from the pump machine, rather than having to pay for gas outside and buy merchandise inside.
Convenience stations are already setting themselves for that next step. Customers at the HiCo Village on East Sprague, for instance, can buy gas and go inside for fast food from a McDonald’s outlet or frozen yogurt from a TCBY shop.
They now have to pay for gas at one register, then pay for burgers or yogurt at separate inside counters.
In time, the industry is designing ways for customers to pump gas, order food and pay for it all at the pump without dealing with a clerk.
“That’s the evolution of what’s happening,” said Lindsay Hutter, public relations director for the National Association of Convenience Stores.
“I’m sure people are already working on the technology that will let people pump, then walk-through, and conclude the transaction outside with their card,” she said.
“People are experimenting with different things already,” said Jones of Post Falls. “The trouble is people don’t want to deal with a complicated menu of choices at the pump.”
Jones is sure people at first will avoid the new conveniences, but then warm up as they gain confidence in the technology.
His station earlier this year was the first in the area to add cash-acceptors on gas pumps. Those slots work exactly like those commonly used on soft-drink machines.
“The equipment worked great,” Jones said. “But we stopped using them. People were hesitant and avoided using them. They had this fear the thing wouldn’t work right.”