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.