The convenience store industry continues to drive innovation and developing new retail technology systems has been no exception. The 53 chains representing 7,950 stores that participated in CSD’s Brand Preference Study identified Gilbarco Veeder-Root, Verifone Inc. and Professional Datasolutions Inc. (PDI) as the category’s top performers. Dresser Wayne, FACTOR, Pinnacle and Garda, formerly AT Systems, were honorable mentions.
Two of the most impressive technologies on display at last November’s NACS Show promise to enhance the convenience value proposition for customers and storeowners alike. The first of these comes to the marketplace courtesy of a strategic partnership between Gilbarco Veeder-Root and Google. It will allow customers fueling their vehicles at stations using Gilbarco’s Encore pumps with Applause media systems to view maps and get directions right on the pump screens along with searching Google’s local business listings to find the closest restaurants or other establishments. The system also allows users to print out the information they need, such as money-saving coupons.
The second technology, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service has been around for a couple of years, but it has now moved from the early adopter stage into the mainstream, which includes retail stores.
The Google system, which is not yet available in the field but is due out in a couple of months, will use a live Internet connection that guarantees all information is provided in real time. The live connectivity upgrades will require some infrastructure, including an on-site server with a very small footprint and additional software for the Google piece.
Gilbarco reps say that color screens, which have a projected cost for c-store owners between $3,000 to $5,000 per pump, will provide the best return on investment. Retailers will be able to customize screens to answer common consumers’ questions, such as queries for directions to nearby attractions.
For a lot of customers, the first and last thing they see when they approach a convenience store are the gas pumps. Unfortunately for some retailers, the pumps may also be the only part of the store a customer sees during their visit. Thanks to the combination of low fuel margins and high credit card fees, selling only gasoline is a no-win proposition for operators who lack the heavy volume needed to be profitable on penny margins.
The most effective way to overcome this obstacle is to drive business into the store. To do this, retailers of all sizes have started marketing in-store promotions using interactive electronic displays and, in some cases, couponing right at the fuel pumps.
Scott Zaremba, owner of Lawrence, Kan.-based Zarco 66 stores, has evolved into a local powerhouse, operating eight c-stores, all with car washes and cutting-edge services. Specifically, the company installed full-color video monitors at the fuel pumps to show gas customers what else the store has to offer.
Another video believer is Laurie Bull, marketing director for Las Vegas-based Fabulous Freddie’s. Fabulous Freddie’s is using visual aids to help prompt customers to make the 20-pace walk into the store. The chain uses Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s SMART Merchandising program and Encore S dispensers. Bull has found success with the autonomy that comes with marketing at the pump.
"We’re looking into running daypart promotions that switch automatically with the time of day," said Bull. "It’s nice because the specials are updated in real time so you don’t have to worry about changing promotional signage. That’s a big help when promoting foodservice and trying to attract customers across different dayparts."