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  • GARY McCARTNEY

À Votre Service!


A service station in France

The everyday chore of filling up your car is different in Europe.


Here in Australia, you go into the service station shop to pay after you pump. Up until recently, service station retail traditionally consisted of throwing as many impulse items as possible into your way to disrupt your journey to the register. No one should leave without at least one energy drink, a large bag of salty snacks and a dodgy looking $1 banana. The relative positions of the front door and the register are under constant debate.


In Europe, you pay at the bowser with your credit card before you pump. There is no need to visit the retail offer if you don’t want to. So, the customer missions are completely different.

Last month I visited a typical service station on the A8 motorway in Provence. There had been a malfunction on the tollgates leaving Nice, resulting in a tailback as far as the Italian border. It was late at night with a long drive ahead and we were all in need of toilets and coffee in that order.

The toilets, not the register, are the destination. That makes sense in motorway situation. The food offer is on the way there and of course on the way back, and the registers are on the way out. Where’s the retail? Off to one side, it’s a pull not a push strategy. Which means that it’s laid out to be immersive and to increase dwell time, not make the most of a short mission.



There is a McCafé, which was closed at that late hour, but there was plenty more on offer. The showpiece is the self-serve coffee area.

I should say here that, unlike coffee-snob Australians, Europeans are happy to drink self-serve coffee as long as it’s good and the price is right. Here, both are true, and the presentation is next level. No less than five stations, each with a huge touch screen and embellished with copper-encased beans, tasting notes and provenance. It’s a real showpiece.

But that’s not all. In the retail area, there is a huge range of food for now, a Casino supermarket concession for groceries, an apparel section for licensed merchandise (in this case, Grand Prix) a section for regional products and a small wine section.

The seating area is textbook: it has several different types of seating, is flooded with daylight, and this being Provence, boasts an olive tree as its centrepiece.


Now think about what’s going to happen once we transition to EVs. This type of environment already caters for customers looking for a longer stay and something to occupy them while they are there. What we need to do is move in this direction with all service station retail – otherwise when the time comes, we’ll have customers sitting in their cars scrolling social media for half an hour while their car charges. And that, for a retailer, is a wasted opportunity.


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