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The Beginning of the End for Covid-19 may be Near but the Retail Technology Evolution is only just Beginning

The coronavirus pandemic will go down in the history books as one of the most disruptive events of the early 21st century. The discovery of a vaccine will be seen with a mixture of relief and a return to optimism, but this pandemic has already made its mark on society. The pandemic has accelerated the change that we all knew was coming, and the retail and hospitality industries have been jump-started into a new era of innovation. Lasting changes in consumer buying behavior have taken place and retailers have had no choice but to adapt fast.  Covid-19 may one day be vanquished by medical science, but frictionless retail is here to stay and with that comes the challenge of maintaining store operational efficiency.

Many retailers have demonstrated their ability to innovate fast with offerings such as mobile pay features at gas pumps, more contactless payment options, and virtual convenience stores. With so many retailers rolling out innovations to meet the demands of these changing buying habits and maintain their business levels during a pandemic, the lesson is sinking in: in this new post-covid world, retailers need a flexible store infrastructure to establish a perpetual environment of new features for both safety and convenience for consumers. In addition, they must make technology changes in the store to reduce cost to serve.

The Opportunity

Convenience fuel retailers in particular are taking this lesson on board, as we discovered in a recent survey by Censuswide, on behalf of Zynstra, an NCR Company. Senior level U.S IT managers from large c-stores have indicated they will be focusing on several technological initiatives moving forward.

Technology has taken center stage as the number one priority for convenience fuel retailers: 81% of c-store retailers said Covid-19 has elevated the role IT plays in the eyes of C-level decision makers, with 100% of c-store retailers with 500+ stores identifying this as a new reality. In addition, 64% of respondents identified the need to adapt their technology to keep up with newly formed consumer behaviors.

The Challenge

While many convenience fuel retailers have demonstrated an eagerness to adapt, making these changes has not been easy. When asked about the main IT challenges faced during COVID-19, the overall impact on staff productivity, speed to market and ability to quickly remediate store IT issues is compelling:

  • 44% said speed of adoption of new technology by store associates due to resistance to change
  • 43% said cost of new devices required to meet the needs of new customer buying habits
  • 40% said complex manual order process for takeaway/home delivery due to third-party tablet integrations (Door Dash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, etc.)
  • 36% said cost of sending technicians out to site to maintain IT equipment & systems
  • 33% said speed of deploying new technology & devices due to legacy infrastructure
  • Only 2% of respondents identified that there were no IT challenges facing their store estate during COVID-19.

See the full report in detail:

Technology is the Catalyst for Reducing Operational Costs

The impact of COVID-19 will mean c-stores need to find a way to evolve their cost structure as implementing store technology changes to meet the demands of new customer buying habits is not an easy task when underlying costs continue to rise.

C-store retailers believe their IT can make the biggest difference in reducing cost to serve in the future, and give them the ability to swiftly adapt to changes in the following areas:

  • 24% Remote deployment of IT updates and new technology in stores via centralized cloud management portal instead of field technician visits
  • 20% Increase staff productivity by putting the right technology into store associates’ hands
  • 16% Accelerate automation of store IT processes through new software deployment
  • 15% Remove hardware refresh costs enforced by vendor end of support deadlines
  • 14% Reduce IT support and maintenance costs
  • 10% Reduce store downtime.

Covid-19 has been the catalyst to spark more innovation in frictionless retail and new ways to achieve optimum efficiency, and this is now part of the new normal. Many who have embarked upon this journey are only now realizing what opportunities and challenges they face; ultimately, having an agile store IT infrastructure will determine which c-stores prevail, and which ones fall behind.

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