NATSO Connect 2024 Rewind: Technology is 'Mission-Critical'

Relieving pain at the forecourt is especially important because of the trucking recession.
Paying for gas through your cell phone

ORLANDO, Fla. — When it comes to creating a seamless customer experience, technology integration is typically talked about as it relates to in-store shoppers and those fueling up their vehicles. But what about diesel customers — the driving force of the trucking industry? 

Panelists of the "Technology at the Fuel Island Tech Forum" at NATSO Connect 2024 agreed that pump technology and fail-safe solutions for professional drivers are crucial.

"It's hard enough to run a trucking company. Trucking is hard and so, being able to take one thing off the list that is mission-critical especially in this trucking recession — is important," said Meghan Erhart, executive vice president of Relay Payments, an end-to-end digital payment solution and mobile app for the supply chain and logistics industries.

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In the last two years, there has been a radical shift in the pace of technology adoption across the industry as more companies begin to modernize some areas of their businesses, according to Wade Lowe, executive cofounder and president of TRUEFILL, a supply management, logistics and reconciliation platform for retailers, distributors, jobbers and carriers. He pointed to two trends behind this surge:

  1. Demographical: "There are younger folks that are getting into management leadership who are now used to getting instant gratification from swiping left for a date, or ordering food online and having it at their doorstep within 30 minutes. They are unwilling to be in a business environment where they can't operate the same way they can inside of a personal environment."
  2. Financial: "With more consolidation comes more cost pressure. More cost pressure means you have to have technology that drives costs down."

The technology buzzword on everyone's mind is artificial intelligence (AI), but what exactly is it? Lowe believes that if people were asked what AI is or what it actually does, not many could answer the question. He suspects that organizations are confusing the application of AI (the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems) with other technology applications such as automation (the use of technology to perform tasks with minimal human input).

[Read more: Retail Leaders Preview 2024 Strategies]

"I think for a mature industry, there's a little bit of a seam around what is the best application for us to use, and how is it actually going to benefit our business vs. trying to take technology and jamming it into our business," he said. 

Lowe encouraged the truck stop and travel center operators in the audience to figure out what problem it is they are trying to solve and then find the right technology to apply, rather than jumping into "cool" technology such as AI because otherwise "all kinds of problems can arise."

Even though AI might be problematic if implemented incorrectly, there are ways that if implemented correctly, AI can be beneficial across all functions of an organization, according to Craig Jensen, director of IT at Omaha, Neb.-based Sapp Bros., a travel center operator and petroleum wholesale distributor. 

In the back office, AI can help predict forecasting while in the human resources department, the application can help drive productivity among employees by performing noncritical tasks. Inside the store and at the forecourt, facial recognition via cameras can identify customers and their purchasing patterns and then connect that data to a mobile app, which will then provide those customers with personalized offers.

Other practical technology applications highlighted by the panel were:

QR codes help provide a seamless experience. Operators can partner with point-of-sale (POS) providers to integrate QR codes at the pump. While fueling up, drivers can scan the QR code to order food and other convenience items, so by the time they're done at the forecourt, their order will be ready to pick up in-store.

Elevating this offer one step further, Dan Harrell, chief innovation officer at Invenco by GVR, pointed out that as QR codes become more popular at the pump, travel center operators can have runners bring prepared orders directly to drivers, thereby enhancing the driver's experience. "You've got to jump on technology now at the pump to drive extra money for yourself without having to do a whole lot. You're putting the technology in the drivers' hands," he said.

Panelists also agreed that QR codes can be integrated with the POS via receipts linked to online surveys for drivers to provide feedback. This feedback can be used to guide future endeavors.

Point-to-point encryption can help prevent fraud. According to a statistic provided by Erhart, skimming fraud across all businesses rose 68% in 2022. Skimming occurs when devices illegally installed on POS terminals or fuel pumps capture data or record cardholders' PINs.

[Read more: Convenience Store Operators Grapple With Rising Crime]

With the implementation of point-to-point encryption, cardholder information is encrypted immediately after the card is used with the merchant's POS terminal and isn't decrypted until it has been processed by the payment processor.

NATSO Connect 2024 took place Feb. 18-22 in Orlando at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort.

About the Author

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano is Managing Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2015. Danielle manages the overall editorial production of Convenience Store News magazineShe is also the point person for the candy & snacks and small operator beats.

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