April 30, 2002, 12:00 AM

Shell builds service stations on the information superhighway

More than 250 Shell stations have created web sites that offer promotions and directions to the station under a corporate-sponsored Internet program that launched in January.

Even gas stations are getting on the Internet. More than 250 of Shell Oil Co.’s Shell and Texaco service stations in 23 states have created web sites since a corporate-sponsored web program launched in January.

Searches for station locations at the Shell Station Finder web site have doubled since the launch, according to Carl Burcham, manager of web strategy and integration at Shell Oil Products U.S., based in Houston. “Approximately 165 million Americans are online and there is clearly an opportunity for Shell and its channel partners to touch consumers via focused web offerings,” he says.

Customer response has been so good that Shell already has re-designed the corporate site to provide information about products and services, in addition to directions to stations,. And some station owners have liked the traffic to the sites-and the subsequent traffic to the stations-that they are considering dropping their Yellow Pages advertising, Burcham says.

The web sites include such information as location and business hours, directions, coupons, maintenance scheduling, job opportunities and e-mail sign-up for oil change reminders. Meanwhile, the individual stations can promote what’s special about each one. “This model, where the parent company provides a forum for local partners to market themselves online, makes sense. It allows local franchises to get the message out about their particular skills or services,” says Jim Okamura, a partner at Chicago-based J.C. Williams Group retail practice.

The web site service is part of Shell’s LocalStation eBusiness Program, which is offered to Shell partners for an undisclosed annual fee. The local stations use basic web editor software to update their own information, while Shell updates national banner advertising and programs, along with the look and feel of the web site, Burcham says.

While quantitative results still are being evaluated, Burcham says the stations are providing positive feedback. “Stations have noted that customers now regularly go to their web sites for information and updated coupons. From the perspective of Shell, the web sites provide a consistent message to our customers,” he says. m

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