Fuel Buying Solutions for Today’s Challenging Market

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Fuel Buying Solutions for Today’s Challenging Market

By Amy Werner, DTN - 03/06/2018
fuel gauge

Making successful decisions around fuel buying can be a difficult process, and it can be arduous to keep up with intraday price changes and volatility within the market. Variances by store, fuel grade, season and day of the week are just a few of the challenging factors that affect businesses.

As a result, this high-volume, low-margin business environment has made accuracy and efficiency absolutely critical for buying decisions and profitability. Nothing is more essential to business operations than having accessibility to the latest and most accurate market information.

Luckily, there are a variety of tools and technology available to help optimize margins and boost overall productivity to ease the stress that accompanies the fuel-buying processes.

Electronic BOLs

The availability of electronic bills of lading (BOLs) has tripled in recent years. This popularity is the result of technology updates that allow businesses to streamline the transfer of ownership and purchase receipts electronically, while eliminating the stress of manually getting the correct information to the back office. Updated solutions can automate gathering, aggregating and formatting, while cross-referencing BOLs electronically so there is less room for error within the system.

Cutting-edge solutions have resulted in an automated process that will match critical data from the BOL with information on an invoice. This integration helps a business align key information and can automate payment processes without the chance of human error.

More importantly, if discrepancies occur throughout the process, the system will automatically send an alert to draw attention to the issue and resolve any persisting problems. This allows the user to focus on key issues in a timely manner, and can help businesses reallocate resources where solutions are needed.

When determining if this is the best solution for your business, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Will the solution integrate with the current back office and if so, will there will be any middleware needed to normalize the data?
  • Is there an allowance for quick searches and access to archived BOLs?
  • Does it have the ability to override rules and set up conditional custom codes?
  • Does it have access to the documents in a “human readable” format on demand for easy understanding?

Doing business electronically can help increase efficiency, allow for greater accuracy, and offer a more cost-effective solution. Overall, this solution enhances customer service and takes the guesswork out of manual processes, while providing a more effective solution to the challenges of managing manual BOLs.

Price Optimization

As we all know, getting the best price on fuel is the name of the game. Complex variables such as contract pricing, real-time rack and spot market information, allocation, availability and transportation can make price optimization a difficult process. With all of these roadblocks, it is important to invest in a pricing solution to ensure visibility of the best prices out there, all while meeting contract terms and staying ratable.

A price optimization tool will calculate all buy options based on chosen factors. For example, if an operation wants to take in transportation costs, then the tool will sort out the options from lowest to highest and identify where the best rack pricing can be found. Additionally, the best-of-breed solutions will display where there are allocations available by the supplier.

Leading pricing solutions allow companies to evaluate contracts, supplier prices, resupply and allocation messages, rack and spot prices, future market information and market-impacting weather — conveniently, all on one screen.

By receiving price alerts, operations can respond quicker to price changes to ensure they get the best deal. Price optimization allows operations to view the latest market news and headlines to ensure companies are in the know on potential market-moving events. Lastly, this solution can empower sales teams with mobile access to real-time pricing data, allowing them to quickly quote customers.

Real-Time Data Transfer

A vast amount of data is shared with suppliers each day. Information regarding prices, invoices, draft notices, credit card memos, loyalty points and outages must be reliably shared and received so that inefficiencies and errors don’t hurt the bottom line.

Many in the industry are turning to technology that automates the formatting and integration of shared documents into back-office systems, ensuring operations receive the data they need from suppliers in the exact format they need it. Innovative data solutions streamline the entire process and help both the business and suppliers grow, without adding new staff to the process.

Price Discovery

The industry standard used to be 24-hour pricing, but due to new technology and innovation, it is now possible to track rack price changes multiple times a day. A real-time price discovery tool is essential in a fast-paced, every-evolving market.

The best solutions should include:

  • Comprehensive data: This includes complete data from both solutions and terminals.
  • Cost: More expensive solutions don’t ensure the best quality. Save money by comparing different solutions to decide which one is best for your operation.
  • Timeliness: Access to real-time information throughout the day is key. Additionally, it is important to note what time the first report is received to ensure it provides adequate time to assess the market.
  • Accuracy: Data is only valuable when it is accurate. When comparing vendors, make sure they employ rigorous quality checks.
  • Format: Pricing data should fit into the existing system, not the other way around. Make sure the provider can supply the information in the format that is needed.
  • Historical data: This is a great resource when establishing contract prices and it is important that a vendor provides this information for reference.

Having fast, accurate information is critical in the downstream. Cutting-edge technology can supply the latest information, while helping operations better automate processes and operate more efficiently. Turning to these solutions helps businesses save valuable time, money and resources by transitioning to a smoother process and getting the most from the newest industry technology.  

Amy Werner is a product manager at DTN. She is responsible for the product direction of the company’s wholesaler solutions. Prior to joining DTN, Werner was in a global product management role at Motorola. She holds a bachelor's degree in Administration Information Systems from Eastern Illinois University.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.