The Future of Tech in C-Stores

The reality of today’s powerful, digital age

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The Internet of Things, or IoT—a concept defined as physical objects, such as refrigerators, speakers or home security systems, enabled with network connectivity—is creating more business opportunities at every turn. And by 2030, these types of connected devices could generate nearly $15 trillion in annual sales, according to Cisco.

As society is more connected now than ever before, technology has changed the way consumers interact with software and with each other. Companies such as Google and Amazon have also changed consumer expectations of technology, from the speed at which people find answers to our questions to how user-friendly and intuitive technology can be.

These traditionally consumer-driven expectations have begun to drive expectations and development for business applications as well. While the consumer segment remains the largest user of connected things, with 5.2 billion units in 2017, businesses are next in line, on pace to employ 3.1 billion “connected things in 2017,” according to Gartner. One study by General Electric predicted that connected devices and the IoT will contribute $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2030.

Here’s a look at what these connected devices may mean for c-stores.

Catering to the changing consumer

Millennials and younger consumers continue to drive interconnectivity. As “digital natives,” they don’t know a world without technology and are much more in tune with new platforms than previous generations.

As they continue to make up a growing part of the purchasing and workforce population, their penchant for mobile platforms and low tolerance for poor user experiences means all businesses will need to step up their game, making sure interactive technologies—from smartphones to websites, mobile applications, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, digital recordkeeping, real-time analytics, portable monitoring systems and more—will have the most intuitive and easy-to-use applications as possible.

In the convenience-store segment specifically, companies have multiple opportunities to improve their connected devices, which will drive up sales. At the pump, newer digital screens can display specials and LTOs and can even take food orders from customers before they enter the store.

Inside c-stores, self-service kiosks and smartphone-based online ordering platforms have begun to replace the need for extra staff and cater to a growing consumer base made up of digital-focused millennials and Gen Zers who trust the order accuracy of an online program they can see more than they do a traditional store clerk, thanks to the potential for human error.

Retailer benefits

On the back-end, c-stores can leverage the power of technology to track inventory in real-time using up-to-date barcode scanning and data-driven software platforms. These platforms can also help drive up business intelligence by tracking sales, consumer preferences and other data to conduct trend analyses, note the success—or failure—of promotions and make future predictions.

Technology partners are capitalizing on the connected experience to help retailers win. When searching for the best partner, look for those that are carefully examining technology trends and allowing them to inform their strategic vision. The most successful technology partners are device agnostic; this way, no matter what platform is being used, these partners have the easiest to use, most intuitive platforms available.

Most successful technology platforms are also connected to the cloud because the cloud is here and becoming more ubiquitous every day. But moving to the cloud is a big undertaking, and one size doesn’t fit everyone. It’s important for a technology partner to provide on-premise, hosted and, yes, cloud-enabled offerings that allow businesses to migrate their software over time. Ultimately, however, cloud-based systems enable large software footprints, such as ERP solutions, to be deployed more quickly. With the power of the cloud, ERP solutions and other platforms can also be scaled easily, and they ultimately create a better user experience. This in turn reduces retailers’ IT costs overall.

Cloud-based systems also help retailers mine and analyze complex data from all things connected. In fact, the most powerful thing retailers possess is their data. Back office software should connect to every smart object at the location, from tank gauges to POS systems, providing the data necessary need to run a business better. And it’s not enough to merely connect and collect data—software must also be capable of synthesizing that data into actionable insights that empower retailers to transform their business. That’s the reality of this powerful, digital age.