The Evolution of POS in Fuel Retailing – The Future’s Not What it Used to Be

The world of POS has evolved rapidly over recent years. Innovations such as contactless payment and biometric personalisation have all made significant real world headway.

One of the most creative evolutions in POS has been the ability to make store purchases on customers’ own mobile devices. In particular, the development of fuel payment systems that allow customers to pay for fuel (and other products) from the comfort of their car, with digital receipts and loyalty offers sent directly to the motorist’s mobile device.

Fuel retailing remains a hugely competitive environment. Not only are margins under pressure, disruptors such as electric vehicles, ride-sharing apps and potentially even autonomous vehicles are adding to the sector’s volatility. Faced with these pressures, it makes sense for fuel retailers to deliver the best possible experience to keep customers loyal.

Managing Complex Technology Ecosystems

Relatively straight-forward as a concept, the complexities of implementing fuel payment systems arise from the sheer scale, scope and criticality of the multi-system integration underlying it, from installing physical networks in a hazardous, outdoor environment and from the high costs of maintaining outdoor payment terminals (OPTs).

Such is the nature of international fuel retailers that introducing a new payments system inevitably involves the bringing together a large, complex and diverse technology ecosystem.

In the case of one fuel payment app, already successfully rolled out across the UK and Australia, REPL Group found itself supporting disparate suppliers across many different countries using a range of technologies.

With parts of the solution delivered by young internet start-ups providing cloud-based software services, and other parts involving the fuel brand’s oldest and “most legacy” ERP systems, collaboration was key; made possible through commitment to collaborative and agile working practices.

Genuinely Innovative and Genuinely New

Says Chief Customer Officer Thomas Quinton, “If you think about mobile apps they almost all interact with other users or an online service from the app company.

 The thing about this fuel retailer’s app is that it interacts with a forecourt: to tell the pump you’re ready to interact with it, to release the pump, set the amount of fuel you want and take payment. It’s one of few examples where the user is not just, say, posting a status update, but remotely controlling pre-smartphone, nationally distributed, safety- and fraud-critical physical infrastructure. It’s genuinely innovative.”

 This POS evolution in retail fuel sales and the interaction between devices and physical sites is still in its infancy.

“We’re only at the beginning,” says Thomas, “Today you can pay for fuel with a bank card, but in the future you’ll be able to, for example, use your company fuel card to order a range of products and services, and to receive targeted offers and promotions in return.”

 Competitive Necessities

 With the Internet of Things (IoT) growing at a pace, vehicles morphing into ‘four wheeled computers’ and even modest predictions forecasting in excess of 300 million cars on the IoT grid by 2030, the scene is set for a multitude of app-enabled conveniences; conveniences that any fuel retailer with an eye on competitive advantage would be wise to take a long, hard look at.

In return for that attention, personalised demographic and geographic information will help retailers to shape and personalise retail customer offerings. Site operations will be streamlined and optimised with more accurate planning, maintenance and scheduling processes. A ‘connected forecourt’ might even see drivers marshalled automatically to avoid queues and speed up the visit.

Adds Michael de Selincourt, Principal Consultant at REPL Group, “The industry is seeing increasingly blurred distinctions between ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar retail. Fuel was neither the first nor the easiest context for this change, but it’s coming.”

The industry is also carefully watching progress towards the ubiquitous Connected Car. Ten years ago the Apple App Store opened what is today a huge and vital competitive environment, and any Business-to-Consumer company will need to keep a close eye on what could become the next key platform upon which to stake a claim.

Incremental Success

Technical innovation of this kind is facilitated by the increasingly agile way that the REPL team are delivering projects. “We’re putting in Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) then iterating for improvement,” says Thomas.

 “We’re improving ways of delivering projects to discover problems early, so we set up the team with Devops and Agile principles in mind. Traditionally this has been very rarely done with POS projects because they involve a lot of old legacy technology, but we’ve started to apply new tools and techniques to overcome this.”

 New Automation Test Tools

 New tech in the form of super-fast automation testing developed alongside software and that becomes part of the delivery model. New tech that sees a two week regression test turn into a two day regression test.

“We’ve been using newer automation test tools to test the old software using image recognition. It looks for images and status changes and interacts with the POS like a human tester, but checks the output a lot faster, and of course on a larger scale”, says Thomas.

API Management Layers Enabling New Experiences

Something point of sale has in common with many other sectors is the increasing popularity of using API platforms such as Mulesoft to allow new, more interactive systems to extract information and value from older systems.

“Businesses are using this technology to build microservices and components that can be connected and orchestrated into new services. It allows them to innovate quickly, and to avoid being overly coupled to specific vendors,” says Michael.

Adds Thomas, “In the old POS world you’d have one POS application from a software vendor that did everything for you. It acted as a master data engine, promotion engine, card system, data warehouse, whatever you needed.

 In the new world, those services are available as standalone applications. You’ll establish a central platform and pick and choose the services you require. It will be similar to the way websites have a central platform to which you can add plugins from a range of providers.

And who better to continue the evolution of POS than REPL? Collaborative, agile, and proven, the retail technology specialists.