Small- and medium-sized convenience store operators make up the backbone of the retail petroleum industry, with more than 60 percent of stores throughout North America individually owned and operated. This small yet mighty market segment dominates the industry, yet a growing threat jeopardizes its viability: "tech debt."
Defined as the operational costs associated with refusing to upgrade outdated technology, tech debt can be avoided when small- and medium-sized c-store operators embrace new technologies and make strategic upgrades to their aging tech stacks.
When it comes to new technologies, today's c-stores face increased competition from innovative entrants like quick-service restaurants, grocery stores, dollar stores and legacy retailers. Many of these businesses invested heavily in new technologies, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making services such as third-party delivery, mobile ordering and loyalty programs ubiquitous.
Large c-store operators are matching this investment in new technology, too. They're offering frictionless checkout experiences and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline in-store stocking. As new entrants and large c-store operators adopt new technologies, small- and medium-sized convenience store operators are falling behind.
Moreover, for the small to midsized c-store operator, aging technology represents an operational and security risk. A legacy tech stack is unlikely to be strong enough to support the adoption of innovative technologies, with tech debt actually impairing some operators from fulfilling current offerings.
Overcoming tech debt does not require pursuit of every new technology available.
While it would be ideal to create a completely new tech stack, this is a luxury many c-stores do not have. Instead, c-stores (like all businesses) would do well to focus on technology investments that are most important to business operations – designing a tech stack roadmap to achieve near-term business goals, such as improving integration with external applications.
What's more, c-store operators can revolutionize their tech stack through a staged process, with each stage designed to achieve maximum business results with minimal investments.
One common pain point for c-store operators seeking a way out of tech debt is the people power needed for selecting, implementing and managing new technology investments, whether due to labor shortages or the challenge of attracting and retaining IT talent.
From a staffing standpoint, there may never be enough in-house resources to meet the growing need for technology management at a c-store. Which is why operators can augment their internal teams strategically with external resources, such as managed services providers (MSPs) or managed security services providers (MSSPs). Not just for large enterprises, MSPs and MSSPs employ top-tier talent and provide access to the latest technology at a predictable cost.
By outsourcing the work to avoid tech debt, c-store operators can attain their tech milestones while keeping internal resources focused on other business priorities that cannot be outsourced.
While the threat of tech debt looms large for the small- to medium-sized convenience store operator, the opportunities and available resources to alleviate it are well within reach.
Mike Tippets is vice president of marketing for the enterprise division of Hughes. He joined the company in February 2008 and is responsible for the creation of brand and product awareness, as well as the engagement and development of Hughes employees around the world. Tippets is a 30-year veteran of the high-tech industry and brings a dynamic and passionate vision of what digital transformation and digital solutions can provide for businesses in the 21st century. For more information, visit hughes.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.