The Power of POS in Fuel Retail: 2019 Insights

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 evolutions in POS has been the ability for customers to make store purchases on their 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, the car industry is changing with the introduction of electric and autonomous vehicles, and ride-sharing apps are adding to the sector’s volatility. 

Fuel retailers must adjust to the change to remain relevant. They can use technology to deliver the best shopping experience to meet customers’ expectations and maintain their loyalty.

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 to the high costs of maintaining outdoor payment terminals (OPTs).

Paying for fuel on a phoneSuch is the nature of international fuel retailers that introducing a new payments system inevitably involves 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 found itself supporting disparate suppliers across many 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.

Given these challenges, fuel retailers need to look towards platforms that provide a flexible toolkit for integrations, additional services, ever-growing types of touchpoint and the deployment of ‘test and learn’ journeys to gauge customer and colleague feedback on new business initiatives.

REPL are supporting retailers across multiple industries who are looking at ways to simplify their systems estate. They’re considering microservices and the concept of headless commerce to reduce previously siloed systems to the core business components. This allows the optimisation of technical and operational processes, while unlocking the ability to rapidly deliver these key journeys across existing, upcoming and potential points of interaction.

GENUINELY INNOVATIVE AND GENUINELY NEW

Thomas Quinton
Thomas Quinton, REPL Group

Thomas Quinton, chief customer officer at REPL, said: “If you think about mobile apps they almost all interact with other users or an online service from the app company.

“This fuel retailer’s app interacts with a forecourt: it tells 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 very 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 or pre-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 pace and predictions forecasting in excess of 300 million connected car IoT vehicles on the IoT grid by 2030, the scene is set for a multitude of app-enabled convenience. Convenience 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. 

Drivers will be able to feed their sat nav or mobile phone with destination details as well as desired stops for refuelling, charging and refreshments along the way. The sat nav or mobile phone would interact with ‘connected forecourts’ along the way to determine where to stop based on availability and price of fuel pumps or charging points as well as the driver’s loyalty programmes and favourite refreshments. 

Michael de Selincourt, Senior Principal Consultant at REPL, says: “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. Connected cars would replace the current standalone sat navs and mobile phone apps, with the car interacting directly with connected forecourts, actively planning fastest routes as well as the best service stations to stop at for refuelling and breaks. 

INCREMENTAL SUCCESS

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

“We’re also 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 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

contactless back office solutionSomething POS has in common with many other sectors is the increasing popularity of using API platforms such as Mulesoft and headless commerce leaders such as Commercetools 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.

Thomas adds: “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, they’re the retail technology specialists.