DALLAS — A key focus of NATSO Connect 2023 was retail technology and bringing innovation to the truck stop and travel center industry.
According to an attendee poll conducted during the March 10 session, "Don't Get Left Behind: What Innovative Retail Technology Should Embrace Now," a wide array of solutions and definitions spring to mind when thinking about technology. Point of sale (POS), speed and self-checkout claimed the top three spots in the poll, followed by other words like convenience, loyalty and efficiency.
As session moderator Angela Coopler, board member of the NATSO Foundation, noted, more than two-thirds of U.S. retailers plan to increase their investment in technology over the next three years.
Where is the investment going? According to another attendee poll, the spend is going toward data analytics, self-checkout kiosks and mobile app loyalty as the top items. Other areas of interest are digital signage and third-party delivery apps.
Joining Coopler as session panelists were Gerald Danniel, chief operating officer of Scranton, Pa.-based Onvo; Sean Register, president of Port Fuel Center in Savannah, Ga.; and Jeremie Myhren, a 25-year retail technology veteran and cofounder of OnRamp, the payments stack for trucking.
One of Onvo's newest travel locations in Dorrance, Pa., embraces technology inside and outside the store. The operator has installed card readers at all the fuel dispensers, and offers self-checkout kiosks inside the store and at its quick-service restaurant offering, Burger King. These services allow Onvo to focus labor in different areas contributing toward the customer experience, said Danniel.
Onvo plans to "invest heavily" in self-checkout and mobile app pay solutions, he shared. Additionally, the travel center operator is focusing on cybersecurity and data analytics. "We have all this information," Danniel said. "How do we use that data to enhance the customer experience?"
Another technology item on Onvo's to-do list is a single sign-on tablet that can be used across the store to replace the seven tablets Onvo currently uses for functions such as payment and inventory.
Port Fuel Center opened its doors approximately a year ago outside the Port of Savannah, one of the busiest seaports in the United States. The travel center offers a mix of self-checkout and manned checkout counters, Register said, adding that the location is also implementing handheld point-of-sale options — what he referred to as the "Chick-fil-A model." Additionally, Port Fuel Center uses geofencing to promote specials to truck drivers in the area.
Register, who is a veteran of the shipping industry and new to the travel center space, explained that he likes to think outside the box. "We are constantly looking to upgrade and improve, even though we have only been open a year," he said, noting that additional travel centers are planned.
Regardless of what a site operator currently offers or what items are on its technology wish list, there is no denying the retail technology space is evolving. Myhren sees evolution happening at the POS. Although the industry has been traditionally last to innovate around checkout, "there is some real disruption happening now," he said.
For example, retailers traditionally would pick a POS vendor and stick with them across the operation. Now, there is what he called a "paradigm shift" to modular solutions, and operators can choose which solution is best for each function.
Another area of disruption is mobile payments, Myhren observed.
NATSO Connect 2023 took place March 7-10 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, in the Dallas metropolitan area. Headquartered just outside Washington, D.C., NATSO represents more than 2,200 travel centers and truck stops nationwide, owned by over 230 corporate entities and representing 16,000-plus fueling locations.