Brilliant User Experience Hack at Nebraska Gas Station Leaves Customers Short On Change and Temper

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My wife and I moved to Denver from New Jersey a little over a week ago. During our cross country roadtrip I came across a very interesting semi-deceptive gas station strategy that can be both construed as brilliant or evil depending which side of the gas pump you are on. As you can see in the picture above, This gas station along Interstate 80 clearly advertises gas for $3.76 which was over 20 cents cheaper than the gas station across the street.

Pulling in to this gas station to fill up was a no brainer… until I discovered his clever trick…

Understanding User Experience Design is a bedrock of building sites and apps that convert well. Creating seamless experiences that play right into people's behavior instead of interrupting them can make the difference between success and failure. This is also why Native Advertising that promotes the atomic unit of a web app converts at a much higher rate than a banner ad that interrupts the experience. 

During the age when adsense sites were quite common, there was a very industry around optimizing the  ad units to inrease clicks. One of the most successful tactics was and still is Integrating The Ad Design Into The Site Design. There is a gray area that crosses a line when the ad unit cannot be differentiated from the actual site content, but blurring that line was a best practice that helped many people make lots of money. 

It is very clear that understanding how people behave and interact with your product, site or app can mean the difference between huge profits and major misses. 

This clever gas station took the time to understand how consumers shop for and buy gas and found a way to setup his gas station to take advantage of typical user behavior to charge much more than advertised. 

If you look carefully at the sign at the beginning of this post you will realize that he says on the bottom that the $3.76 price is only at Pumps 9 & 10… which happened to be the furthest pumps from the enterance. I did not notice this bottom claim about the price only being at pumps 9 & 10 and I pulled into the nearest pump. When I was about two gallons into filling up I saw the price I was paying was $4.16 which was WAY ABOVE THE SIGN.

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So I stopped filling up and looked at the big sign and noticed it was only pumps nine and ten… I was pretty upset for being taken advantage of, and decided to move my car to pump 9. 

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Even when I got to this pump, the sign says regular and the pump said $4.169. I assumed the other pump was diesel. I looked carefully and noticed that the other pump was only $3.76. Many people probably would not have gone through the trouble I did to get the advertised price. 

I went inside to ask what the deal was with this shenanigan, and the fellow working the counter said, I don't like it either, but the owner went all the way to the supreme court and won. 

It's Your Job To Read The Sign. He Was Absolutely Right, It Was Plain As DAY Clear!

The problem was it went against everything that I am used to doing. The owner understood that when people shop for gas they look briefly for the cheapest sign and just pull in. They hardly ever look at the price at the pump, They also usually pull into the closest and easiest pump to pull into. By the time they realize the clever trick, most won't bother pulling their car around and possibly even waiting for the availability at pumps 9 & 10. Even if they magically ended up at the cheaper pumps, the natural instinct is to assume the other pump is diesel, and the amount of pain and frustration you have to go through to save 30 cents a gallon or no more than $5.00 is enough that most will probably just pay the extra money and move on. 

Usually, I would say that crafting a manipulative user experience is bad for long term business, this is a gas station in middle of nowhere on a major interstate. I bet 80% of his business never comes back again anyway. 

I was both inspired by this brilliant tactic, and really annoyed that I almost fell for what should probably be considered false advertising, since user experience dictates that most won't read the fine print. 

 A wise person once told me that when someone is angry, they are usually angry at themselves for making a mistake. If  I had been taken in by this gas stations ruse, I probably would have been furious, and if I dug deep I probably would be furious at myself for not taking the extra second to read carefully and not be lazy and fall for this trap. 

The lesson here is obvious. Your users will almost always do whats the easiest and simplest thing for them to do. You can either build an app that has as little pain as possible to get the most users, or you can be clever and make it more expensive for them to do the easier option, and advertise a cheap price and make it difficult to claim that price. I know there are plenty of web apps that show three pricing tiers, and hidden in fine print is a link to a free or much cheaper option, hoping you end up paying the higher price. 

There is no question that manufacturing a user experience to grow your bottom line works, ignore this reality and you'll end up overpaying for gas everytime. 

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About David Melamed

David Melamed is the Founder of Tenfold Traffic, a search and content marketing agency with over $15,000,000 of paid search experience and battle tested results in content development, premium content promotion and distribution, Link Profile Analysis, Multinational/Multilingual PPC and SEO, and Direct Response Copywriting.

Comments

  1. I was half-expecting this article to be about how the sandwich at subway was 3.76

    • DavidMelamed says:

      Lol. Thats about the only time I can see someone justifiably upset about $5 dollar footlongs.

  2. You don’t want the 85-octane stuff anyway! Or maybe nobody has noticed that is why the price is lower on those two pumps? Looks like they are using the diesel tanks with the low-octane crap.

    • DavidMelamed says:

      Isn’t 85 octane typical regular gas?

      • Only in some of the higher altitude states, but most people don’t recommend it because of the risk of damage.

        http://www.vroomgirls.com/all-about-octane/

        • DavidMelamed says:

          Thanks. I always opted for the cheapest gas, but I guess 87 it is from now on… 🙂

        • CCernst says:

          It will only damage if your car is not spec’d for that low of Octane. The number does not reflect the quality of the gas, but at what point the fuel will ignite. Higher compression engines will cause regular fuel to combust early (pre-ignition), so you use additives to bring the Octane rating up. Now your fuel will not combust due to compression and the spark plug ignites your fuel at the proper time.

  3. The sign is legible but not clear. He purposefully laft the letters unadjusted so it’s hard to read. Or notice. Supreme court can make a mistake too.

  4. Notice the octanes are in reverse too..This guy is over the top.

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