Gassing Up, Pissing Off, Getting KILLER Ideas

More and more, consumer efficiency is becoming a big deal to me. In fact, I feel so strongly about this particular area that I’m thinking of dethroning Ralph Nader as the world’s foremost consumer advocate (Ralph, you reading this? Nah, you’re not – scrub). Seriously, though, I can’t stand it when things are inefficient for customers, and I think this is an area that is often overlooked in many product-oriented business models.

Earlier this morning, I had the distinct displeasure of gassing up my car during a time span that happened to be especially windy. Combine that with the effects of wind ripping underneath the awning at a gas station, and you have an arctic mini-tornado. Now go pump your gas.

A Model of Inefficiency

So before I start bitching about my experience, I need to arm you with some knowledge about the gas stations that I frequent around town. First, I’ve actually committed to buying gas from Kroger, which is the largest grocery store chain in this part of the country. A few years back, they began selling gas, and because they offer a per-gallon discount with your Kroger Plus Card (a customer loyalty program), every Tom, Dick, and Harry circles the block to save $1.20 while filling up their gas guzzling SUVs. Admittedly, I think this is borderline retarded, but I have the convenient excuse that my routine filling station is less than a mile from my house…and it’s on the way to Starbucks ;-)

Today, however, I was in another, slightly more redneck part of town, and I was nearly out of gas. Honestly, I pulled into the filling station expecting everything to be just like my regular station, and as far as appearance was concerned, everything was nearly identical. I placed my Kroger Plus Card under the scanner – BEEP! Booyah, $0.06 off per gallon. After saving bookoo dollars, I went to pump my gas. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. No gas. WTF? Finally, after realizing that I was a stubborn dumbass, the machine beeped at me to let me know that something was up. There, in large-pixel, overly digital letters was a phrase that makes me want to go homocidal on someone’s ass:

Please pre pay or use your credit card.

Okay, okay, I should pay at the pump using a credit card, but since my retail businesses turn over cash every now and then, I just use the cash for gas whenever it’s necessary. So, with the credit card option nixed, I was forced to pre pay.

People, pre paying for damn near anything IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. I’m an exacting kinda guy; I don’t want to go hand the clerk $40 for $35.35 worth of gas! You know why? Because I have to make ONE trip over there just to give her $40, and then I have to make ANOTHER trip over there to get my dog gone change! This is so inefficient I could puke. Two trips? I mean, with “pay at the pump,” you don’t have to make ANY trips over to the little kiosk (I hate the kiosk). At my regular filling station, I don’t have to pre pay, so at least I only have to make ONE lousy trip over there to do the obligatory transaction.

Like I said earlier, it was freezing outside, too. Running back and forth through the shearing winds, being treated like a potential gas thief, and dealing with inefficiency is a hideous combination that nearly makes me go postal.

How About a Solution?

If you can pay with cash at the U-Scan terminals inside the grocery stores, why can’t you pay with cash at the gas pumps? It seems to me like there’s equal security risks at both locations, so is there really a good reason why this feature hasn’t been implemented? If I ran gas stations, I’d want this functionality, because I’d want my clerks having as little access to gas cash as possible. Seems to me that this would be especially helpful in an industry that suffers from slimming margins, rising prices, and employee turnover.

In fact, let’s take this one step further. I think I could completely ERADICATE gas theft with one simple device that builds solely on existing technology. Here’s how it works. First, we extend the functionality of existing gas pumps to accommodate cash in addition to credit/debit cards. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that the input mechanism for the cash mirrors that of your typical vending machine or U-Scan system. Second, modify the software on the pumps so that they require customers to pre pay with cash BEFORE pumping. This is the ULTIMATE step in this process, because this is where all potential theft is completely eliminated. Either the customer uses a credit card and you’re guaranteed the funds, or else the customer pre pays with cash, once again guaranteeing your funds. After the customer pumps his or her gas, the pump spits out the difference between what was pre paid and what was actually pumped. Simple as that.

You know, it’s remarkable that I’m not a millionaire yet. I guess I’m outta here for now – I’ve gotta go market this.

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9 comments… read them below or add one

Tom December 16, 2005

Excellent idea about the pump spittin’ out change; however, my Dad informs me that that idea was tried in the 1960s; unsuccessfully. The pumps were pried open and robbed. Now that we’re in the 21st century, perhaps high-tech lasers could be utilized to (1) prevent theft at the pump, and (2) reduce a ballooning world population dependent upon an Earth-destroying energy source.


Chris P. December 16, 2005

Well, I thought about the theft issue, and although I can’t offer up a foolproof solution, I can point to freestanding ATMs as examples of successful unmanned cash dispensers.

I think there are certainly measures that could be undertaken to prevent theft; moreover, I feel like whatever expense goes into creating a system like this would be justified by the savings that would come from eliminating drive-offs. I used to work in the convenience store industry, and I can say (with confidence) that if you could solve the drive-off problem, you would be the undisputed hero of the industry.


Ben December 18, 2005

They could pay some teenagers minimum wage to stand at the kiosk and watch the gas pumps in case anything goes wrong – they pay someone to do the same thing at the UScan stations inside. This way no one has access to the cash except the machine and customers know that someone is watching them so they are less inclined to try to get away with free gas.


tfro December 18, 2005

How about you just join the rest of the world and use a damn credit card? Its double miles man!!!! You can’t beat that.


barbex December 19, 2005

They have pumps like that in denmark. There is no kiosk, noone working there.

You pay cash at a terminal and then select your pump and it stops pumping when whatever you paid is used up. I don’t know what happens if you put too much money in there, with the ridiculously high prices for gas I never had that happen.


Lulu December 19, 2005

I’m with Tfro on this one…However, prepay is completely unacceptable. If I pull up to a place that’s prepay, when I want to use cash, I promptly leave. It’s obviously too ghetto to fill up there anyway.


R December 20, 2005

Great idea – I’m impressed! I hate to say it, but in Washington state we have a few Conoco’s that have already exercised this technology and IS IT GREAT OR WHAT?! As far as I know, you don’t have to pre-pay for it (though I agree you should), but it’s right there so you can just pop your cash in and go. The only catch is it doesn’t give change so we’re talkin’ even dollar amounts…1s, 5s, 10s, and 20s…no coins. It’s pretty cool. I hate using my debit card because of the insane holds they put on my cash at the bank – up to $100 no matter how much you put in! Credit cards…okay, yeah, you get the double miles, but depending on your card and payment schedule you may end up forking over some interest for swiping your pretty little Visa.


Josh Hemsath December 20, 2005

I guess I missed this bit of info in your P.O.S. System rant, but, why couldn’t you pay with credit card? Kroger (if the parent is anything like its child Fred Meyer) doesn’t have any card devices that eat your CCs – you insert and remove. You never mentioned that you didn’t have a debit/credit card, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

For us poor college folk, prepaying is an easy way of paying for gas if you only have a fixed amount of money that you can spend. So I would say that I’m in favor of keeping prepaying.

Fujitsu, a large electronics conglomerate, manufactures the U-Scan system which Kroger uses in its grocery stores. Gas station systems are a different animal, and for pure reasons of space, would be a poor place to install an ATM like device that accepts and dispenses cash. Less filling units could be deployed in the same pad.

However, just like there are special pumps for diesel fuels, it might make sense to have a couple cash pumps. Enclosed in some sort of concrete barrier.

And so I come full circle, or 180, or something like that. Still, what’s the problem with paying for gas with a debit card? You have a job? Pay checks get deposited in your account, right? You pay for your hosting with a credit/debit card, I imagine. What’s another expense like… gas, then?


olivier blanchard April 7, 2006

Someone’s already on it. There’s a station near my house that has the cash@pump system, and it’s pretty damn cool. (It doesn’t give change back though, which is a drag.)

Or you could get decked out in khaki, buy a Safari-style Camel Trophy edition Land Rover, and carry three weeks’ worth of gas strapped to the roof.

The moustache is optional.


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