Fuel retailers stake future on customer-centricity, automation

The saying, ‘Customer is King’ still holds true especially for fuel retailers in Nigeria who have wagered the future of their operations on customer preferences, loyalty and technology.

This is coming amid dynamic changes to customer demand patterns as new energy frontiers open up and individuals transit from traditional fuels to emerging cleaner energy options.

Chief Executive Officer, Eterna Plc, Mr Nnamdi Obiagwu, speaking at the 14th Oil Trading and Logistics (OTL) Africa Downstream Week said Nigerian consumers were becoming more discerning and now demand a wider range of energy services and non-oil offerings.

Addressing participants on the subject of “Independents and the New Frontiers of Competition in Fuel Retail”, Obiagwu revealed that Independents were developing structures to deliver a variety of products to nurture a new customer base that will sustain their operations.

“Presently, some Independents have inherited structures that were previously reserved for majors and are growing into strong players, effectively blurring the lines between them”, he said.

Obiagwu noted that while technology and loyalty programmes will play a huge role in capturing and retaining customers, a lot will depend on how they adapt to the new realities.

He commended the Retail Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for its influence in the industry and demonstrating how rapidly operators could scale up operations using a combination of business models.

Director, South Africa Petroleum Retailers Association (SAPRA) Mr Vishal Premlall presented his country’s perspective on the future of retail operations post-Covid.

Quoting a business expert, Premlall said “If your business survives Covid-19 consider it that you have made a profit.”

He said the fallout of the pandemic has made retail outlet operators reconsider business models and repurpose products to meet changing demands.

He averred that “The petroleum products retail outlet model will prioritise the customer rather than the car.”

President, Petroleum Retail Outlet Owners Association of Nigeria (PETROAN), Dr Billy Gillis-Harry, in his address, lamented how difficult and unpredictable the business climate in Nigeria had become.

According to him, “The analogue method of managing petroleum operations in Africa is not only cumbersome but susceptible to losses and safety considerations.

He emphasised that the role of Artificial Intelligence in retail operations, adding that PETROAN was working on a digital platform to connect banks, depots, retailers, customers and other ancillary services for seamless networking.

On her part, Managing Director, NNPC Retail, Mrs Elizabeth Aliyuda returned the accolades saying Independents established an impressive footprint in the sector through rapid expansion, development of ultramodern retail outlets and impressive value added services.

She highlighted some key drivers of petroleum retailing in Nigeria including “12 million registered cars, 44 million Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises and household energy demand.” Others include strategic location of outlets, credit sales to customers and a low price strategy.

Aliyuda also tapped technology as the newest enabler to give retail outlets the edge through automated forecourt systems, automatic tank gauges, fleet management systems and e-commerce.

She advised operators to take advantage of the opportunities available in the Atuogas policy promoting Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as clean alternative energy.

This session which featured Mrs. Elizabeth Aliyuda, Managing Director, NNPC Retail; Mr Nnamdi Obiagwu, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Eterna PLC; Mr Vishal Premlall, Director, South Africa Petroleum Retailers Association (SAPRA) and Dr Billy Gillis-Harry, President, Petroleum Retail Owners Retail Association of Nigeria (PETROAN), was moderated by Mr Inam Wilson, Partner, Templars.

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