2020 was a defining year for convenience stores as they’ve proved their essential role throughout the pandemic. It was also a year in which c-stores recognized the need to modernize their technology stack in order to quickly pivot their offerings to better serve consumers in this new reality.
From rolling out new payment options like pay at the pump, contactless or self-serve payment technology, to partnering with third-party delivery services like DoorDash and Instacart, c-stores quickly realized that without agile technology capabilities, they would quickly fall behind the competition and shopper demands.
C-stores that were able to make rapid headway during this period had a technological “edge.” They got ahead of the game by creating an agile environment for their IT infrastructure at the edge — in the store — to give them more flexibility to pivot and make decisions in the face of unprecedented change. By decoupling their existing hardware from the software, they were able to make quick changes to devices and applications in the store whenever they wanted to, a far cry from the previous scenario where every device in the store is intrinsically linked, making change a costly and time-intensive process.
COVID-19 has merely accelerated the technological change that all c-stores knew was coming. C-stores recognized the need to reduce costs and improve customer experience, and the best way to do this is to make improvements in technology and operational processes.
We have entered a new era of convenience where more and more technology agility is required in the store — at the edge — and c-stores are moving fast to make adjustments.
Why? In the name of safety for customers and store associates, c-stores have been forced to experiment with new technologies much faster than they would have typically done. Even before COVID-19, c-store owners listed mobile payment apps (43 percent) and order at the pump options (41 percent) as very important to the future of their businesses. These new buying preferences are unlikely to be temporary. They may change the way consumers shop forever.
Forced to evaluate all components of their IT environment, from what devices they need throughout their store and where they should be placed, to enhancing staff productivity, is just the tip of the iceberg. COVID-19 has also accelerated the need for remote management of a c-store’s technology infrastructure, minimizing the need, risk and expense of a technician’s physical visit to the c-store for support and maintenance of store technology.
In today’s frictionless checkout market, the cost of downtime can seriously impact revenue, whether that be point-of-sale, back office, loyalty or payment system failure. And in the case of self-checkout, downtime can cause customers to be diverted to staffed registers, resulting in rising labor costs, which many c-stores simply cannot afford if they are to grow their top line and bottom line.