Fuel Forecourt Loss Prevention - Five Key Habits

Theft of fuel from petrol stations, or drivers with no means of payments [NMOP] are both seen as too big a risk for many forecourt retailers around the world, for example, in USA, most retailers require payment before the customer puts fuel in their vehicle.

However, an alternative shopper journey, that would be more commonly found in the UK and Australia, is that the shopper fills the car with fuel first and pays for the fuel inside, after they may have made some additional purchases inside the store.

To address the increased risk of "drive offs" and NMOP, retailers in the working group shared their plans to invest in ANPR & Video Analytics technology, the adoption of simpler digital reporting systems and increased staff training & engagement.

Summarised below are the five practices or habits they were each adopting to help them sell more inside the shop and lose less fuel at the pump.

1) They were increasing visibility to and the relevance of fuel loss to the business:

Acquiring good data on the extent of the problem of fuel loss is not easy, often the data sits in multiple parts of the organisation. That said, one retailer who was able to get the data, shared that their losses of fuel equated to 0.1% of total fuel sales. A small percentage but adding up to €€€ millions for most of the retailers in the group.

For any business, a clearly articulated size of the prize is the key to engaging top management and securing the investment needed to support any loss prevention programme.

2) They were adopting simpler, faster digital reporting systems, to support civil recovery efforts.

Store associates and managers are busy, acquiring accurate incident reporting data has forever been problematic.

However, all retailers in this meeting shared strong progress in moving to digital reporting, one retailer who had built their own system, shared how they had increased reporting rates through the use of an app on a mobile device that had drastically reduced the time it takes to report "drive off" or NMOP incidents. They did this by making it easy to import video images, through the use of drop down menus and "look up" functionalities. Other retailers had invested in third party systems and again reported higher levels of reporting compliance.

With robust digital reporting, the true scale of the problem becomes more evident and civil recovery programmes and their success rates can improve significantly. All retailers reported strong improvements in recovery rates, most were over 50%.

Further improvements in reporting can be expected in the UK if government agencies became more supportive of digital, real time access to vehicle ownership details and the make / model of cars associated with licence plates [to help identify clone / fake plates]

3) They were investing in ANPR / LPR technology to block repeat offenders.

ANPR camera technology can help support the loss prevention strategy in two ways.

Firstly, it can help with reporting, with the licence plate data directly integrated into the reporting systems.

Secondly, the licence plates of those vehicles who "drive off "or who have NMOP can be added to a data base of "watch list" licence plates. Access to this list can be for just one location or can be shared across the retailers network,

When any licence plate on the "watch list" appears on the forecourt, an alert can be sent to the store associate to not authorise the pump and thus deny repeat offenders access to fuel.

Retailers shared the number of vehicles being blocked on a daily and weekly basis. One retailer for example reported blocking 24 vehicles per site per week. With the average drive off value of £50, this represented a potential saving per site of £1200 per week.

One final point, ANPR also helps improve the integrity and reliability of reporting, With ANPR technology, the records of any licence plate in the system can no longer be subject to error or mistaken entries. This can help prevent collusion.

By way of example, one forecourt retailer reported that the installation of ANPR technology had reduced their drive offs by 60% in the first month of installation and yet, the system was covert and only the retailers staff knew about its installation.

4) They recognised the need to educate and engage store leaders and associates

The bedrock to any robust loss prevention programme is the engagement of those in stores, the leaders and the store associates. To them, loss has to matter and be a problem that they feel they can control. To help them win, the business needs to give to stores the right tools, technology and the recognition when improvements are delivered.

These higher levels of engagement ensure that stores become much harder targets for the bad actors.

This point was bought to life by one retailer who shared that they have a new type of thief operating in the forecourt stores where self checkouts had been installed. This so called "dream off" thief will fill their vehicle with fuel, spend some time browsing in the store and then buy something at the self-checkout and then walk out of the store without paying for the fuel.

If caught, the bad actor would claim they had "lost their mind" and forgot to pay. For the retailer to prove intent will be hard as the bad actor will simply argue that the confusion was caused by the presence of their self-checkout machines.

Thus it is critical that store associates and managers in the stores are on their guard all the time and be aware of this risk, and others, looking to prevent it before it happens.

5) They partnered with law enforcement while also recognising their capacity limitations.

It is no secret that law enforcement are not entirely sympathetic with forecourt retailers who encourage shoppers to fuel first and pay later. They believe that retailers are encouraging criminogenic behaviours. Law enforcement see that retailers have an easy solution to this problem, simply adopt the pay before you pump model.

It was therefore not a surprise to learn in the meeting that law enforcement, in many countries, will not prioritise this crime, especially in the context of the rising crime in retail stores and other priorities that draw on their reduced and limited resources.

Next Steps

The group will meet again in January 2025, where we hope to learn more about the progress being delivered against these habits, to hear about new video analytics solutions and the ways in which the data can and is being shared. In the meantime, the UK retailers can expect an update on digital access to vehicle details. Click below to register for the next meeting.

For further perspective on the latest trends in forecourt loss prevention, please click to see the meeting recap video with Professor Beck.

Forecourt Loss Prevention Update 2025

January 8th - 2025


Feb 15, 2024