x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Study calls for the return of 'pump your own petrol'

Enoc's failed three-month trial run two years ago met opposition from drivers accustomed to service at the pumps, but academic says the experiment ended too soon, and now is the time to try again.

DUBAI // A scheme that allowed people to pump their own petrol in the UAE was abandoned too soon, according to a new study.

More research into cultural attitudes and better marketing could have made Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc)'s three-month experiment with self-service fuelling a success, according to Dr Nnamdi Madichie, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Sharjah.

Self service was launched at 10 Enoc petrol stations across Dubai and the Northern Emirates at the height of the summer two years ago. It was abandoned shortly afterwards when the move met with widespread opposition.

Dr Madichie conducted extensive interviews to gauge the public's reaction.

"There were mixed feelings among people," he said. "Some looked at it as impossible on the grounds that it clashed with the local culture. Others blamed it on the heat. However, it wasn't an outright failure. It was stopped before people could get used to it."

In the paper, which was published this month in the International Journal of Business and Globalisation, Dr Madichie claims further research is needed into why people did not warm to the idea.

Following that, a marketing strategy could be adopted to break down some of those ingrained attitudes, he said.

"It has to be evolutionary," he said. "People's minds have to change first. It could get some acceptance if it was introduced in a subtle manner."

Feedback gathered by Enoc suggested around 65 per cent of people were against the move, and 30 per cent were for it, according to Khalid Hadi, the brand and marketing manager for Enoc.

"The people who were happy were mostly western Europeans, for whom it was a normal practice," Mr Hadi said. "On the other hand, the local community didn't like it because it was a new concept for them. We are living in a country where the customers are really spoilt."

Aside from the unpopularity of the scheme, Enoc said it was also concerned about the safety of customers using the petrol pumps unsupervised.

Certain safety warnings, such as not smoking at the pump or using mobile phones, were still going unheeded, said Mr Hadi.

One of the stations operating self service was in the Al Manara area on Jumeirah Beach Road. Staff there said they were glad the self-service idea had been dropped.

Even though Enoc had said attendants would not be laid off under the self-service scheme, there was widespread concern at the time over job security.

On Monday evening, 20-year-old Emirati Mohammed Eisa was content to leave his sports car to be refuelled by service attendants. He said self service did not mesh with local customs.

"Here, we respect the ladies," he said. "You can't expect a woman to get out of the car and pump her own fuel in 40-degree heat."