CHICAGO — Convenience Store News brought together c-store technology executives to discuss the latest solutions exciting the industry, and what keeps them up at night.
Following a successful virtual event last year, the CSNews Technology Leadership Roundtable & Dinner was held in-person this year. Taking place on the opening evening of the 2021 NACS Show in Chicago, the event provided a forum for c-store tech leaders to share best practices and discuss the future technology needs of the industry.
This year's program featured a talk by Mani Suri, senior vice president and chief information officer (CIO) of 7-Eleven Inc.; a fireside chat discussion with Deb Hall Lefevre, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K; and the presentation of the 2021 Technology Leader of the Year Award to Levon Hooks, CIO of Kum & Go LC.
Among the hot topics during the roundtable portion of the event were self-checkout, artificial intelligence, employee engagement, and loyalty programs.
All participants also agreed that there are two areas in particular that the convenience channel cannot ignore: mobile payment and omnichannel commerce.
"Innovation and technology will drive the continued success for our organization," Hooks said when accepting the Technology Leader of the Year Award on behalf of the Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain.
When talking retail technology, a lot of the focus is on Amazon or big-box retailers like Walmart; however, large retailers have hundreds of stores and machines, and data centers. On the other hand, c-stores have a much smaller footprint, so the systems that work for big-box stores do not work for convenience, according to 7-Eleven's Suri, who also noted that c-store retailers face cost and budget pressures.
Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven is known for embracing innovation, from a cashierless store in Dallas to its 7NOW delivery platform. The company is continually learning along the way, Suri said.
According to the CIO, the game is changing and convenience store operators are not only facing competition from other retailers, but also from tech companies. The key to keeping up, he believes, is to find solutions that work for today's convenience retailing environment, as well as tomorrow's.
During her fireside chat, Hall Lefevre spoke about how she came to Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard from McDonald's and was excited about the opportunity to try bringing digital solutions from the quick-service restaurant space into the convenience channel.
When she joined Couche-Tard in April 2017, the company was heavily on a merger-and-acquisition path. Since then, Hall Lefevre and her team have rolled up their sleeves to bring Couche-Tard's entire Circle K network onto the same technology page.
Moving forward, items in Couche-Tard's technology pipeline are centered on delivering frictionless experiences to customers, she shared.
The 2021 CSNews Technology Leadership Roundtable & Dinner was sponsored by Applied Data Corp. (ADC), Hathway, and Mobiquity. Paytronix sponsored the Technology Leader of the Year award presentation.