By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Flash Foods is embracing new technology to benefit customers and corporate initiatives alike. At the end of October, the Waycross, Ga.-based c-store chain, with 172 locations in Georgia and Florida, debuted its first-ever mobile app that includes a mobile payment option for customers. Flash Foods also recently partnered with Simmons Corp., adding ClearView technology for Environmental Reporting Agency (EPA) reporting and alerts for fuel shortages due to theft or short fuel deliveries.
It’s no secret that mobile payments are rolling full steam ahead into the convenience stores sector—whether they’re ready or not—and Flash Foods is determined to be at the forefront of this new wave of technology by learning and adapting now, so it’s ready to go when mobile becomes the norm.
Flash Foods’ new app offers consumers a number of features, including a store locator complete with fuel prices for each location, directions to the store of their choice, discounts and coupons, the option to scan and add their loyalty card to the app, and payment through GOBLUE Mobile Pay. The app became available for customers to download to any iPhone or Android smartphone at the end of October.
Flash Foods has long offered customers the chance to pay with a GOBLUE card, which offers an ACH payment that saves Flash Foods interchange fees and therefore gives customers per gallon discounts at the pumps. But now customers can use the GOBLUE payment right from their smartphones. They simply register their email address to get a personal identification number (PIN) that enables them to use the system.
“From then on they just log in with their PIN—right in the app—and get a seven digit code, and they have 10 minutes to use that code to pump and pay for gas at any of our locations. Once they enter the code the pump turns right on just as if they had swiped their card,” said Jenny Bullard, chief information officer for The Jones Co., which owns and operates Flash Foods. Customers can also enter the code at the PIN pad during checkout inside the store to mobile pay for their cigarettes, groceries, etc.
The company had been beta testing the mobile payment portion of the app since June within the corporate structure of the company. Flash Foods is partnered with the National Payment Card Association for mobile ACH payment and uses Pinnacle for its point-of-sale (POS) system and loyalty partner.
One of the major benefits of this form of mobile payment is that it didn’t require Flash Foods to make any equipment changes, upgrades or retrofits—a key consideration when determining what type of technology to implement in order to facilitate mobile payments at the pump. As a retailer with 172 stores and an average of eight fueling positions per store, for example, the retrofits needed to implement Near Field Communication (NFC) technology proved to be cost prohibitive and didn’t reduce the cost of interchange fees, so Flash Foods knew it needed a different solution.
The GOBLUE Mobile Pay technology requires no cardholder data to be passed across the network, which makes the solution very secure and out of scope for PCI or data security best practices. Because the app replies on ACH payment, it helps Flash Foods bypass interchange fees, and customers can watch the pumps roll back 5-10 cents per gallon depending on location.
“The rollout of our app is exciting because we feel we’re on the crest of something new. As an industry in the early 90s when we first started scanning in the c-store industry, we began getting all this data, and we had to understand what we were going to do with this information,” said Bullard, who is one of the industry’s preeminent technology experts. “Eventually we drilled down into the data to know what our customers were buying. Now that we’re transitioning toward mobile payment, we’re going to know even more about those customers through mobility, and we’ll be able to target more specific demographics.”
As Flash Foods enters the world of mobile payments, the company is aiming to attract more members from the Millennial generation. Bullard noted that 60% of the company’s customers enrolled in the GOBLUE card program are 40-60 years old.
“We want to target that younger demographic to get them on board—by responding to their demand for mobile payment. By giving them this new technology using their phone we hope to convert them to our GOBLUE program and away from credit and debit cards when they are at our stores,” Bullard said.
So far the foray into mobile payment has been cost effective for Flash Foods. “We are sort of wading in there lightly to see what happens, knowing there will have to be changes and additional upgrades down the line to keep the app new,” she said.
Bullard advised other retailers thinking about entering the mobile space to take the leap. “I think you need to jump in lightly, but go ahead and start down that road because if you don’t you’re going to be left behind.”
Flash Foods has also seen immediately positive results and a quick ROI after adding Simmons’ ClearView technology earlier this year. ClearView provides continuous fuel inventory management software and services that track fuel through the tanks at the site.
“ClearView can alert us to theft when fuel levels drop in tanks that did not get recorded as fuel sales through our pump controller,” Bullard said. “We also receive alerts of issues with pumps as to needing maintenance, such as pump calibrations or filters needed when the pump’s flow rate is slow.”
In addition, the system is designed to provide the ability to accurately reconcile deliveries. “If a driver is meant to deliver 4,000 gallons, as a retailer, we don’t have a way to measure what the sales were during that exact time, so it’s difficult to confirm that, yes, they did drop 4,000 gallons,” Bullard said. “With ClearView, they are able to determine how many gallons went out during that delivery. Then they can flag short deliveries for us.”
Bullard noted that the Millennial generation is going to see triple what her generation has seen in technological advancements within the convenience store industry. “Technology is moving and changing at such a rapid pace today, and convenience store retailers are going to see more and more advancements that can improve the way we do business,” she said.