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ATLANTA — Amazon. Touchscreen ordering. Curbside pickup. Mobile, well, anything. These are a few of the innovations that are top of mind for technology leaders in the convenience store industry.
Joining together for the inaugural C-store Technology Leadership Dinner, hosted by Convenience Store News and its sister company EKN Research, technology executives from across the convenience channel shared their insights on where the future of retail tech is going. The event took place the evening of Oct. 17 at Atlanta's City Winery restaurant.
While many pointed to Amazon and the company's efforts to meet the demands of the increasingly tech-savvy world, all agreed that customer service still reigns supreme in the c-store industry.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to the people and the experience for the consumers," said one attendee. And another added: "The c-store experience is something you can't put in an Amazon box."
When it comes to mobile, Pilot Flying J's app "flows seamlessly" with what the Knoxville, Tenn.-based travel center operator's customers can do inside the store, one retailer commented. For example, the app lets professional drivers reserve a shower or a parking space.
However, not all regions of the country are as quick to embrace the use of mobile or credit/debit cards when it comes to shopping at a convenience store. One Mississippi operator explained that its rural stores ring up 80 percent of transactions in cash.
Loyalty programs are among the key initiatives in convenience store retailers' technology departments across the United States. With the goal of keeping customers coming back to the store, participants in the C-store Technology Leadership Dinner agreed that it's not just about capturing the data, but finding the opportunities within the data. A successful strategy is to keep it simple, but keep customers engaged.
EMV upgrades are yet another hot topic on the tech side of the convenience channel. One retailer questioned how single-store owners and small operators will be able to meet the new requirements, especially given the financial commitment.
"Getting them from Point A to Point B is very tough because of the financial outlay," she noted. But she hopes they don't stop at the new mandate and that the EMV upgrades "catapult them" into other areas of tech implementation.
One subject matter that impacted everyone in the room was the changing role of the c-store industry IT executive: operational or strategist?
"You are seeing a convergence of IT and marketing," one retailer explained. "Is it more IT or marketing? And who is going to win?"
The C-store Technology Leadership Dinner, sponsored by Axis Communications and Petrosoft, also honored Maria Fidelibus, QuickChek Corp.'s vice president of information technology, as the 2016 Technology Leader of the Year. For more on Fidelibus and why she was honored, click here.