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October 08, 2018
Why technology brings customer loyalty to the forecourt
By: Neale Johnson and Mark Gregg

Ever wondered what it might be like to know what your customers want—perhaps, even before they do? In today’s world, not only is the customer king, but also customer experience is a key differentiator. Emerging technologies are proving to be vital in encouraging consumer visits and providing easy, targeted, connected experiences that can reinvent fuels and convenience retail. In a competitive market, with falling footfall, the opportunities are there for the taking. Increasingly, fuel retailers are seeking to exploit emerging technologies to keep the customer satisfied—and loyal.

An earlier blog talked about how fuel retailers are rethinking the purpose of the fuel station, evolving it into something less traditional. The penetration of a digital infrastructure makes this possible. Technologies such as cloud computing, data analytics and application programming interfaces (APIs) have all laid the foundations for increased connectivity and consumer understanding, providing a platform for a new era of leading-edge innovation. In the coming weeks, we’re going to take a helicopter view of some of the ways the latest technologies can be used and, in some cases, are already being used with rewarding results. Here’s a snapshot of some of the leading lights for connected consumer experiences:

Internet of Things (IoT)
Digitalization—which includes technologies such as IoT—is on the rise. Indeed, over the next decade, digitalization has the potential to create around US$1 trillion of value for oil and gas firms1. And some retailers are experimenting with IoT, such as “proximity beacons” that use wireless signals to send notifications to alert in-store customers (within range) when they are near a special offer that may be of interest to them. This kind of data builds a picture of customer preferences, helping the fuel retailer to make personalized and targeted promotions, with significantly increased conversion on fuel and shop purchases.

Frictionless Blockchain
Blockchain, a distributed ledger with an immutable record of exchanges, has a vast range of potential use cases. For instance, supply chain settlements, where entire back office processes can be simplified with “smart contracts.” Complex administrative processes can be reduced when the contract conditions, “coded” into the blockchain, are met. And alongside more of the process being automated, fuel retailers can enjoy better information security by using blockchain platforms.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Automated pumps may be widespread, but what about applying the broader possibilities of robotics and AI to the customer experience? By using AI to create new processes, find hidden value in data and rethink the workforce, Accenture research found that 88 percent of organizations using machine learning have seen at least a 200 percent improvement in key performance indicators in enterprise processes2. The benefits are appealing to retailers. Automated fresh food dispensing retail startup Frshly is seeking additional investment for its business that uses robotics and algorithms to serve fresh and hot food from the best restaurant brands within just 90 seconds—a concept close to the idea of cash withdrawal from an automated teller machine (ATM)3.

If convenience retail is using robotics in this way, it is a short step to imagine the potential of automated fueling, particularly as the growth of autonomous vehicles continues to rise. Indeed, the opportunities are there—from using AI as part of the payment experience (think checkout-free concept stores, which use sensors to track customers in store and auto pay for any items taken), to using AI in fraud detection—a common occurrence in fuels retail due to the nature of the fuel product, and more so in the B2B fuel industry, where fuelling volumes can be high.

What can fuel retailers do?
While some of these technologies may still be in their infancy, it is highly likely they will become the future of the forecourt. And rather than being adopted isolation, combining them may enable the greatest opportunities to emerge—imagine blockchain payments and IoT and computer vision abilities teamed with cloud computing to drive digital marketing.

Here are three areas to enable fuel retailers to take advantage of emerging technologies opportunities:

  • Lead from the top: CIO/CTOs play a critical role in defining the strategic direction of technology innovation to meet retailers’ cost and growth objectives. Help them to develop emerging technologies and be open to proof of concept trials to understand what will work with your customers.

  • Adapt the operating model: Be “customer experience”-led, using technologies to hyper personalize offerings and make data-driven business decisions. Introduce a flexible operating model with innovation at its core.

  • Encourage partners and prospects: Open conversations with current partners and suppliers while exploring prospective alliances. Understand what is on the horizon and what needs to be in place to manage an increasingly digital future.

To survive, and, ultimately, thrive, fuel retailers will need to invest to achieve results in the near term, while keeping an eye on technology trends which may change the game entirely down the line.

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Footnotes

1 Why O&G Companies Should Adopt the Modern Energy Workplace, Daily Oil Bulletin, Sep 25, 2018, © 2018 copyright Junewarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, via Factiva.

2 Process Reimagined Accenture 2018.

3 "Frshly looking to raise $7-10 million to expand in India and overseas," Food and Beverage News, Aug 13, 2018 © Food And Beverage News 2018, via Factiva.

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