I drive past a gas station every day that displays its gas prices using cards. I don't know whether the attendant has to manually change the cards every time they change the price or whether they have some kind of automated system that rolls the cards around, but I assume the owner must have considered whether or not to update to a digital display.

If the gas station updates their display to something electronic like a digital display, I assume many users would notice the change.

I wonder what the effect would be of such a change. Would users be more likely to notice and read the prices on the electronic display?

If users would be more likely to read the prices (purely as a result of the change, regardless of whether it is more visible, which it may be), I then wonder what the result of the increased attention would be. Would those users be more or less likely to purchase gas at that gas station?

Would upgrading to a digital display be likely to increase or decrease sales at the gas station? Is there an answer to this question based on research?

  • I assume the display would be considered an interface. If it's not, feel free to edit the title. – Gimme the 411 Aug 7 at 3:52
  • One knock on effect might be increased visibility during night-time, which could increase sales during that period of the day. – RobbyReindeer Aug 7 at 8:19
  • The cards I see are well lit at night anyway, and it's possible for a digital screen to be washed out by the sun during the day. Anyway I'm more interested in the effects of it being different, regardless of whether its better or worse. – Gimme the 411 Aug 7 at 8:22
  • It's a good question, unfortunately I don't know of any research relating to digital gas station signage and increased sales. But i'd hedge a bet it would increase sales by 5% or so. – RobbyReindeer Aug 7 at 8:35
  • I feel like the change would increase attention, which because it is about prices could cause consumers to be more cautious about it, and that it could therefore decrease sales – Gimme the 411 Aug 7 at 8:38

TL;DR: Yes it would increase sales.

Changes in speed also grab attention, especially when they happen closer to you. In another connection to our biological roots, when we notice something move, we pause and watch it. “One of the survival strategies that humans and many other mammals developed was to freeze in the face of danger. Any movement could possibly attract the attention of a predator, which would invariably reduce their chances of survival”

The punchy motion we use in creating digital signage, particularly at the beginning of messages, is designed to take advantage of the impact movement has on us. How messages move on and off screen, whether they speed up or slow down, the addition of video: all play off our instinct to attend to movement, including standing still and watching what captures our attention. Motion creates a sense of urgency – in this case, not to run from a predator, but to walk into a store and buy.

So, a static sign is much less likely to catch our attention; to the modern shopper, it simply becomes part of the environment, like wallpaper. Is it time to swap out static for digital signage solutions? Only if you’d like a response from your customers.

Is a part of this article.

So yes, people would be more likely to notice and read the prices on the electronic display. So if not looking at other factors (e.g. the actual price) people would be more likely to buy and increase sales. But those digital screens are also more expensive of course.

  • Maybe it makes sense for the logo of the gas station to be on a digital sign and to have some jagged edges moving around it to draw attention to the gas station, but the fact that the prices are about how much to pay, I feel like it could have the opposite effect. I feel it would draw more attention, but does drawing more attention to a price lead to more sales? – Gimme the 411 Aug 8 at 12:00
  • Well that depends on the price. If it's lower or equal to average I believe it will because you're attracting more people and more watchers means more buyers. – Alex Lushiku Aug 8 at 12:02
  • You are making the unsubstantiated assumption that people use a particular gas station based purely on price. People may be choosing the gas station they use based on other criteria ( convenience of location, speed of filling and paying, other services that can be purchased at the same time at the gas station. Etc ) – PhillipW Sep 7 at 16:04

I think the answer like most questions on UXSE without too much contextual information is that IT DEPENDS...

On what you might ask?

  • Location of the gas station and the placement of the signage
  • The type of customers and what their preferences or behaviour might be
  • The actual frequency (or perceived frequency) of the updates to the prices
  • The design of the digital signage (visual styling, addition of features not previously available)
  • The ease of maintenance and backup option if the signage did not function due to power outage or electrical fault

Those are just the ones that I can come up with without knowing anything about the station or the signage, and if I had any experience with gas stations at all I could probably come up with more.

Users (in this case drivers) are creatures of habit. They will generally drive the same route to and from work. After so many trips along these routes (home to work and work to home), they will have their surroundings mapped in their head (pattern recognition). If any change occurs, they are more likely to notice it because it will stand out from what's been mapped in their head. Of course, after a while, this new sign will be mapped in their head too and will stand out less.

This is true of a gas station switching from physical card numbers to digital numbers or even vice versa. Now light itself is more attention-grabbing than physical cards, so in the context of switching from cards to digital numbers a brighter light is being added and will grab their attention more. In the opposite context of switching from digital to cards, light is removed and so it may appear like something is missing rather than added (due to the shift to a less attention-grabbing medium).

Now since light is more attention-grabbing, the new digital number display will grab their attention, and it obviously specifically calls out the prices. However, whether or not it turns into a sale is dependent on the price itself and if they need gas. In marketing, the goal is to get the customers attention, inform them of what the product is, and convince them to buy it. In this case, the user's attention has been grabbed.

If the user notices the new display and notices that they are low on gas then they are more likely to get gas. But do they get it there or down the road at the next stop?

Side note: Just because the sign is more attention-grabbing does not guarantee they will see it. They may be oblivious to their surroundings due to texting while driving, or are more focused on the road like a good driver, or just dodged an accident, etc.)

So if they notice the new display and see that the price is higher (due to some shortage, oil spill, political climate, high-demand season... basically supply/demand and/or greed) then chances are the pricing and their need for gas will be the biggest factor to whether they buy or not. Upon seeing the price, some users will think to buy gas before it goes up even more while others will wait and see if it goes down. This behavior is regardless of if they noticed the price more or not. There are too many variables at play with the price of gas and the behavior of a user based on that. In contrast, if the price drops significantly, it could very well increase sales.

I think the real question here is how pricing (and rapid or slow rates of change) affects sales. You'd have to look into research surrounding that question.

TLDR: The digital sign may have their attention, but pricing and their own need for gas is the largest factor to convert this sale.

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