Opinion: Bridging the Technology Divide

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Just after the SOI Summit, two colleagues and I revisited the topic of bifurcation. In the case of convenience stores, it’s the tale of two types of operators: one investing in innovation and change, the other holding onto what’s worked in the past.

The larger discussion that day was about how our print and online products can evolve to be more relevant to you, our readers, and your jobs as c-store operators.

The topic of bifurcation came up because of an idea: What if, as one retailer suggested, the magazine and online publications evolve to focus on one class of retailer—the segment actively focused on reinvention and innovation? As someone in that forward-thinking class, the retailer spoke of articles that a progressive, leading-edge businessman would want to read.

His issues weren’t about establishing a high-end coffee program, because he has already done that. He wasn’t concerned with clean restrooms. His company has a great training and operational program going. He didn’t want to read about needing friendly, personable types of people to run the store—he wanted to know a consistent way of recruiting them.

In this imagined incarnation, CSP would be about best-in-class practices; viewpoints from retailers with success stories to tell; and second, third, even fourth generations of everything from foodservice to technology.

It was a revelation. It’s not that CSP hasn’t been focused on those types of stories. In this new perspective, those who did not fit the upper echelon could simply be neglected, written off. In some cases, the magazine could call them out as a level of c-store retailing that the more progressive companies needs to distance themselves from, perhaps even revile.

This is an argument taken to the extreme, of course; no one wants to be called a bad businessman. The point really becomes a matter of focus. This sliding-scale industry has never made reporting about it easy. CSP has always tried to be relevant to all c-store retailers, from the top performers to those with fewer resources.

I speak to this because such bifurcation certainly exists at the tech level. As I spoke with Shekar Swamy of Omega ATC in St. Louis about data security, he mentioned a vast number of retailers who still have to conform with version 2.0 of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council’s rules, even though version 3.0 went into effect this past January.

Even in this light, the idea of writing for a retailer already implementing a higher level of data security, as well as for one who’s just coming to grasp with the basics, puts me in a tough spot.

Relevance is an ambitious goal. It’s specific. It’s laser-focused. It also varies by company size, the age and background of the retailer, the region, and in some cases the weather. In many ways, we as editors can’t begin to solve the problem with complete and abject perfection. All we can do is try.

And in the case of this technology-rich issue of CSP, we address topics that appeal to a broad base but also answer questions that speak to the individual.

As editors, we decided a technology-related cover story—that of e-commerce and its effect on the c-store channel—was both timely and of priority to our readers. While few answers exist, the potential for a game-changing set of trends that involve the likes of Amazon and Walmart are certainly worth investigating. And our questions have solicited thoughtful responses that temper any catastrophic imaginings, yet also reinforce the need to keep evolving and innovating.

Another ongoing concern for retailers is cash management, including shrinkage, theft and other worries. We provide you with results from a yearly study done in partnership with Corporate Safe Specialists/FireKing Security Group on p. 69.

We also take on the topic of data breaches in the months after Target and other high-profile credit-card compromises made nightly news. Where do retailers stand? What are the immediate ramifications? What does the industry do next? These are all valid questions that we shed light on, starting on p. 81.

Though the industry is at different levels of technology, common places exist. Certain circumstances apply to all. And while the divide on a technological front is evident, there are options at all levels.

And while CSP will continue to evolve, our divining rod can certainly be that single most interesting argument: What is it about a retailer that compels him or her to make the better choice?

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