NORTH CANTON, Ohio -- Refining the customer experience has become a paramount focus across various industries, from retail to technology to banking. It has become imperative that the retail industry and, for that matter, the fuel and convenience industry take a hard look at how it wants to engage, interact and transact with its customers or risk losing market share.
The overall fuel and convenience-retail industry has struggled in recent years to provide a consistent and personalized consumer experience due to legacy processes and IT, in addition to a rapidly evolving payments landscape indoor and now outdoor. However, gas stations’ incredibly heavy footfall rate—121 million consumer trips in 2017, according to GasBuddy and Cuebiq—reveals the valuable opportunity for fuel and convenience providers to offer solutions that improve the overall customer experience and incorporate new customer journeys.
Luckily, we’re beginning to see a more concerted effort to overcome this shortfall, especially among specialty brands. According to a recent study conducted by Market Force Innovation, fuel and convenience providers such as Cumberland Farms, Wawa, Kwik Trip and Sheetz top the list of preferred gas stations by consumers nationwide because the retailers prioritize overall pump satisfaction.
Gas stations and convenience stores should consider the following to innovate and accelerate their technology and to engage consumers at every point along their journey, which will in turn improve loyalty and return visits.
1. Present a unified and personalized shopping experience. In today’s world, consumers want to maximize their time and efficiency. They don’t want to feel like they’re wasting their time by going to the pump, filling up their tank and then making additional purchases in-store. As such, gas stations must leverage and implement end-to-end technology across multiple touchpoints to remove friction and delight their customers. This means presenting shoppers with consistent pricing, information and promotions, thereby expanding the value of their experience, increasing sales and enhancing retailers’ brand differentiation.
This can include in-store POS systems, self-checkout stations, kiosks and mobile commerce. Adopting technology across the customer journey will enable fuel and convenience retailers to offer a more compelling and frictionless forecourt and store experience.
2. Make the leap to EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa). One of the biggest challenges for fuel and convenience stores is EMV chip cards. In 2020, Visa and Mastercard will require all gas and convenience retailers to install EMV chip-card readers at pumps in the United States to improve overall security measures. A hurdle of EMV adoption by consumers, millennials in particular, is functionality and the feeling that the chip readers take more time, adding friction to the filling and payment process. However, it’s critical for retailers to update their systems or risk enabling fraud and facing penalties.
Retailers need to really look into how they want to engage, interact and transact and use opportunities such as the EMV outdoor mandate to enhance the forecourt and store experience for their customers. Digital and site technologies are evolving rapidly and are ready to support retailers in achieving their customer strategy.
3. Making the convenience store a destination. Gas stations and convenience stores can be unsanitary, inefficient and years behind when it comes to technology. It’s clear, though, that the stations with slow customer service, slim selections in food and beverage and unhygienic facades won’t last, because these stations do not empower the customer.
The gas station of the future should be a destination instead of an inconvenient pit stop. A clean, tech-forward environment will help to streamline in-store processes, encourage additional spending by adding new services and keep customers coming back for more. According to a 2017 study from Market Force Information, consumers appreciate flawless execution of “bright, appealing imaging and deliver[y] in experience-related areas such as consumer service and specialty foods.” In addition, concepts that encourage customers to leverage services provided and to combine services, including order ahead, scan and go, pay at the pump, curbside pickup and more, allow retailers to better engage their customers and make their lives easier.
Gas stations and convenience stores must innovate and digitize to best meet the needs of the customer, therefore leading to increased sales, a transformed reputation and operational efficiency. The time is now to fuel the customer experience. Are you ready?
Ulrich Seemann is business development, Americas retail and fuel and convenience, international for Diebold Nixdorf, North Canton, Ohio.