How technology is changing the face of petrol station forecourts

By Kit Kyte, CEO, Checkit.

Today’s fuel stations are already looking very different to the ones we knew 20 years ago. But the changes are set to accelerate in the coming months and years.

Gone are the days of inconsistent food selections and basic grocery items. Today’s forecourts are increasingly reflecting the food-driven destination shopping more traditionally seen in retail parks. They’re attracting the sort of brands once the preserve of the high street - Subway, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer – and turning into major shopping locations.

Why fight your way through Saturday shoppers for a coffee and some groceries if you can get everything you need while filling up your car?

A more sustainable approach to transport

What’s driving this revolution in retail? Well, the appetite for convenience is strong and operators sense the opportunity to attract a bigger share of consumer spending by creating a smarter in-store experience, leveraging quality brands and prioritising speed of service.

The way in which  we fuel our vehicles is another factor. Department for Transport figures revealed that during 2020, 179,000 ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered for the first time in Great Britain, an increase of 125% on 2019, and making up 8.5% of all new registrations in 2020. This despite the pandemic causing a drop in the overall number of registrations. 

Early challenges around lack of infrastructure and lengthy charge times are being consigned to the past. The first of 100 planned electric charging forecourts opened at the beginning of 2020. What’s more, while the majority of charging systems added onto existing forecourts have systems rated up to 150 kilowatts (kW), next-generation stations will be able to charge vehicles much faster. By combining these with other services, forecourt operators will want to attract customers interested in making full use of the time they spend recharging. 

A multipurpose, one-stop shop – while you charge

It all points to an increasingly multipurpose forecourt – less fuel and go, more one-stop shop, with the growing presence of cafes and remote working facilities.

The need to maintain a high-quality service and overall customer experience presents a challenge for operators with multiple sites, delivering an increasing diversity of services that require different skillsets. 

Connect for data

To deliver that, operators need to first connect their workforces. 

Why? Because they need better data and oversight. Waiting for paper documentation to be gathered at the end of a shift and sent over to headquarters is both labour- intensive and futile from a dynamic decision-making perspective. 

Any potential trends could be finished by the time someone has sifted through the paperwork to identify opportunities. Equipping workforces with mobile apps that guide daily actions and allow them to log both activity and any anomalies would help gather data faster, directly from the frontline. In addition, they can track stock levels, automate replenishment orders and even help monitor lone staff working late shifts or customers at night, linking directly to emergency services in the event of incidents. 

This data could be collated and reviewed on central dashboards, generating reports as required by stakeholder or industry agreements and regulations, while cutting information gathering time. 

Intelligent retail operations come from a combination of smart people, smart equipment and smart places, all digitally connected to enable the flow of both reporting and guidance.

It also feeds into being able to improve rapidly. Using trusted, real-time information, managers and leaders can identify potential problems, share solutions from other sites and proactively rectify issues before they have a major impact on the overall customer experience. 

Retail’s next big location

The increasing prevalence of EVs, ULEVs and AFVs is pushing forecourt operators to invest in their sites to do their part to install a new infrastructure that supports alternative types of vehicles. At the same time, it is an opportunity to upgrade the overall retail experience. In doing so, however, operators will need customers to keep coming back and spending more. Connecting workforces to gather data is critical to ensuring operators can provide that level of service – without it, operators will struggle to meet the expectations of customers and reap the rewards of the latest retail location – the forecourt.  

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