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Can C-Stores Afford IT Downtime?

When customers enter a convenience store, they expect to get what is implied in the name: convenience. This is the reason why unplanned downtime in stores can seriously damage the customer experience and cause brand reputational damage. Whether it be Point-of-Sale software malfunction or software patches and updates being incorrectly applied to other devices in the store, the disruption caused can often lead to lost customers and revenue

As Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease and customers steadily return to in-store shopping with new found confidence, the importance of maintaining uptime in stores cannot be underestimated. For example, a recent survey from NACS highlights that over half of c-store retailers (52%) expect “summer travel and commuting patterns will be close to pre-pandemic levels.”

The pandemic forced retailers to adapt their businesses to new consumer buying habits, from the physical design and layout of stores through to the latest checkout technologies as they rushed to make the shopping experience as safe and frictionless as possible. Now that the dust has settled, many are realizing that these changes, such as Buy Online Pick up at Curbside (BOPAC), home delivery and self-checkout, placed a heavy burden on the legacy IT infrastructure. The result has often been ‘workarounds’ with the incumbent technology stack and therein lies the problem.

We recently commissioned a third-party survey through Censuswide to poll 100 U.S. IT managers and store operations managers from large convenience and convenience fuel retail (CFR) stores to better analyze the true repercussions of IT downtime. The survey identified that 98% of respondents interviewed have had to deal with store system failure, demonstrating how prevalent this issue is across the industry.

From point of sale (POS) failure to glitches in the store controller, payment controller, fuel controller and self-checkout systems, the complex store IT infrastructure, common in many c-store retail operations, makes implementation delivery and management of software difficult on multiple types of devices and a major operational challenge.

Through this research, we uncovered the top 3 consequences of IT downtime:

1) Lost revenue

Store system failure can result in abandoned baskets, less returning customers and negative reviews; all of which affects the bottom line. When asked about the amount of lost revenue c-stores can attribute to store system failures, survey respondents answered that on average they lose up to $855 per hour when just one of these systems goes down in a single store. In terms of time taken to return one of these store systems to service, the average time was just over 5 hours, further highlighting that failure can mean money down the drain if they are unable to quickly rectify the issue.

2) The reboot butterfly effect

With an average of 2-3 lanes per convenience store and 41% of respondents’ saying at least one component of their technology stack operates as a single point of failure, the impact of even one component going down is a loss of selling capacity. In this scenario, when one device fails, retailers must repair or replace the device as soon as possible to avoid long lines and abandoned baskets.

This consequence permeates throughout all of the c-stores IT touchpoints, with an average of 65% of respondents saying that one store system has to be rebooted at least once a month, leading to a disruption in operations. Self-checkout and fuel controller are the biggest culprits across all store sizes and POS particularly for stores with 100 sites or more.

3) Replacing store systems

Beyond the pain of rebooting IT touchpoints, coping with business disruptions and lost revenue, the ultimate consequence of IT downtime is the task of replacing store systems due to failure from security breaches, hardware failure, incompatibility with Windows updates and reported software failure. As these IT replacements get underway, 47% of respondents highlighted that a store technician has to be sent to the physical store 50% or more of the time to resolve store system failure, adding yet another expense to c-stores bottom line.

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Solving for IT Downtime

C-store retailers require continuous innovation and IT resiliency in order to evolve with consumer demands and deliver on the promise of convenience and safety. Transitioning to a software-defined store strategy (SDS) by virtualizing retail store systems reduces the cost associated with managing, monitoring and maintaining store systems, providing c-stores with much greater resilience and control. A software-defined store strategy can specifically solve the most critical downtime pain points within a c-store’s IT ecosystem, including the payment controller, fuel controller, POS, store controller and self-checkout among other touchpoints.

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