As technology advances at a rapid pace, the retail business landscape including that of convenience stores continues to change. Over the last decade, day-to-day business operations have transformed with the advent of mobility and self-service. Retailers are working to stay ahead of the technology curve and meet new customer demands and buying habits.
C-stores are adopting mobile printing technology, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and self-service kiosks because of the increased return-on-investment (ROI) they provide, such as reduced operational costs, redistributed resources to maximize employee time and streamlined operations.
Going Mobile in a C-store
According to RIS News' 2011 Retail Spending Trends survey, approximately 63 percent of retailers are actively involved with a mobile point-of-sale (POS) and are incorporating mobility into their in-store processes. This type of project can include upgrading a POS terminal with advanced printers and scanners, or equipping associates with a mobile device that offers a full-service checkout experience at the customer's convenience. However, leveraging mobile technology within retail extends further than updating POS terminals.
In any retail environment, inventory management is key and it's no different for c-stores, especially given the smaller space for products on the floor and stockroom merchandise. As such, inventory management systems are crucial for c-stores to optimize the limited space they have, ensuring just the right amount of merchandise is on hand at any given time. Further, maintaining an accurate, real-time view of inventory is the foundation to meeting sales goals, preserving margins and exceeding customer expectations.
A mobile printing solution that prints real-time information on demand and can relay information to multiple parties simultaneously is one way to streamline the inventory management process. Wireless printers -- specifically handheld devices -- reduce the speed-to-shelf time, from as much as 10 weeks to one week. Speed-to-shelf time is the process by which new products are restocked on stores shelves, in order to maintain a full inventory. C-store managers have increased visibility on inventory levels, preventing a limited or excess stock amount.
Another benefit of retail mobile solutions is real-time information exchange between delivery person and distribution centers. This communication can dramatically improve retailers' direct-store-delivery process. For instance, consider a beverage distributor that delivers soft drinks to a chain of c-stores. When the delivery person enters the store location, he/she can move from aisle to aisle scanning every item specific to that beverage distributor that is currently on the shelf. Once all the appropriate store items are scanned, if any item is missing or needs to be replenished from the existing store inventory, a delivery receipt, invoice or other documentation related to the order and delivery, is printed on the spot. The product information is then relayed back to the distribution warehouse, immediately locating that individual item for restock and inclusion in the next scheduled delivery.
Implementing mobile technology enables workers to complete tasks in a shorter amount of time and ensures top-line inventory management.
Self-Service and Convenience Meet
Beyond mobile technology, convenience store owners also can take advantage of a trend that larger retailers have been capitalizing on for quite some time – self-service technologies. According to a 2011 study released by Aberdeen, 29 percent of retailers are providing self-service kiosks as a key point of service for customers.
One way c-stores are employing self-service is by implementing RFID-enabled self-checkouts. For c-stores, RFID technology allows a sensor to read information from RFID tags or labels on store merchandise. Customers bring their items to one of the checkout kiosks and an RFID reader automatically senses the tag and totals the costs, and customers then pay with cash or a credit card -- all in about six seconds.
RFID-embedded kiosks also create an extension of the store's labor force, providing a measurable cost savings from a managerial perspective. Self-service, automation, and data collection used for measurement and improvement processes can maximize efficiency and redistribute resources, giving staff more time to focus on the experience of customers. Such technology has become a competitive offering for c-store retailers hoping to cater to the on-the-go consumer.
Technology will continue to transform business within all facets of the retail industry. The innovation should not be perceived as a roadblock, but rather an opportunity for retailers at all levels. C-store owners must continue to reinvent themselves and their retail environment by tailoring today's technology to meet the needs of their business and customers.
Marty Johnson is product marketing manager for Zebra Technologies, where he is responsible for the company's marketing and global product launch strategies. Johnson has spent more than 20 years in various global sales and marketing roles working for technology companies. He holds a computer science degree and MBA from Kent State University in Ohio.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.