There is no ’one size fits all’ epos solution for forecourts. So says Paul Cooper, business development director at HTEC. And he should know, as HTEC provides solutions to 50% of the UK’s supermarkets and to 3,500 forecourts. "We have been in business since 1989, with a focus on forecourt retail operations and we process £6bn-worth of payment transactions per annum," he says.

The company’s HydraPOS pump control/epos solution has a variety of back-office control systems to cope with different sites’ needs. "For instance, it could be that a large retailer has a requirement for full shop stock control along with electronic order links to suppliers, while a smaller retailer can control the business using a more compact system. This is where HydraPOS shines as it’s flexible enough to operate a large supermarket forecourt or a small two-pump site as required," he explains.

HydraPOS’ functions and benefits include credit card and loyalty card interfaces to Total, Texaco, BP, Jet and Esso; interface to oil company card schemes, including Shell Payware; and integrated solutions for Shell, Jet, Murco and other independent schemes. In addition, automatic number plate recognition can be integrated into the current systems or can be used as a standalone alongside other manufacturers’ POS terminals.

And HydraPOS and HydraOPT are both approved for, and can support, unmanned petrol station operations with outdoor payment terminals.

Cooper says that most pos solutions these days offer the same sort of PC-based, touch screen functionality for combined pump control and pos functions. "These are PC systems and, like all PCs, issues can arise in their use. And when they do is when the support of the HTEC product range comes into its own. The HydraPOS is capable of being supported remotely via standard site telecoms to give an 85% remote fix rate. This enables the site to be operational within minutes instead of the traditional ’wait for an engineer’ situation.

"Remote support maximises site ’up’ time and profitability and minimises site ’down’ time." Cooper believes HTEC is unique in the epos market in offering retailers a fully-manned support facility from 6am to 11pm, seven days a week. "This support -along with the use of the fully resilient Site Controller - allows operation in fallback mode. The Site Controller ensures uninterrupted sales processes in the event that one of the epos terminals should go offline."

Like HTEC, software company Background2 has come to the conclusion that each forecourt is run differently and so has worked with a diverse selection of dealers to develop its solution.

Managing director Keith Carsley says: "Ultimately, we have produced what we believe to be the most functional and efficient back-office system available in the UK market today. One of our key selling points is that our development programme is on-going. All of our customers can update to our latest release at the click of a button. Moreover, all of these updates are included as part of our support contract."

Background2’s Flow system provides both a back-office and head-office solution with all the standard requirements such as cash reconciliation, wet and dry stock control, local accounts, and Sage exports, plus a full accountancy solution. Plus it links to a wide selection of leading point-of-sale systems including HTEC, Gilbarco Veeder Root, Tokheim, Torex Retail, and VBi.

Meanwhile the aforementioned Tokheim has been chosen by Snax 24 to replace its pos systems when the first stage of its upgrade programme starts this autumn. Integrated with the Tokheim FuelPOS will be the Flow back-office and head-office system, which has been enhanced to meet Snax 24’s requirements.

Adrian Beeby, UK dealer sales manager at Tokheim, explains: "During the extensive and highly competitive trial, we were able to develop a system for their forecourts, convenience stores and head office, which will improve their IT systems, logistics, stock ordering and efficiency right across the business."

Beeby believes Tokheim has broken the mould with its new POS solutions: "We have a completely structured and scaleable offering like no other on the market, starting with our EcoPOS. This is designed to meet the needs of the smaller retailer who requires a highly reliable, functional and modern new pos with an extremely attractive price tag. There are no ’golden handcuffs’ with EcoPOS; as your business grows and requires change, so can EcoPOS, building step by step as and when you need it."

He says adding new equipment such as Crypto VGA outdoor payment terminals, video surveillance with automatic number plate recognition and self-calibrating SCS technology Stage 2 Vapour Recovery with full data logging and remote diagnosis, is straightforward when you have Tokheim solutions installed.

"Using industry standard as well as bespoke communication protocols allows our solutions to interface to the largest assortment of peripherals and services."

== Future thinking ==

Of course new technology is being developed all the time so it’s always good to be aware of the latest innovations. For example, following the recent launch of ’contactless’ credit and debit cards in the UK, Indigo Retail has been working with ACK to provide a solution for forecourts. Managing director Billy Tank, explains: "Using hardware proven in the US and new ACK software, transactions under £10 will be payable with contactless cards ie without the need for PIN entry. The contactless system has been widely adopted in c-stores throughout the US and south east Asia. It provides increased transaction speed with reduced cash handling."

Then there’s the new PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). The standard has been designed for the protection of cardholder data, and as such it affects the software applications and the general security of the machines. Indigo Retail is currently working towards PABP (Payment Application Best Practice) with an established third party assessor to help retailers with PCI DSS. New software security features are being developed such as ensuring customers’ card numbers are no longer stored on the epos or back-office management system.

Indigo Retail is researching its wireless capabilities to create a real-time interface, to provide full real-time stock handling. The aim is to provide more accurate stocktaking and re-ordering figures.

The company has certainly been busy at its recently-launched InCommand, a web-based head office solution that provides full price book including price banding and store types with trading profiles, for full control of products sold by price and location. "Retailers can manage their networks from anywhere in the world with InCommand. Data can be kept secure with the hosting service provided by Indigo Retail," says Tank.

Finally, NCR has been busy too. Its new RealPOS 80XRT workstation has been designed to enable retailers to run a range of sales promotion, business analysis and stock management applications simultaneously, without slowing down transactions. Roger Kirby, NCR’s self-service specialist, explains: "Our NCR RealPOS 80XRT can run back-office applications while processing front-end transactions quickly. This makes it ideal for real-time updates to retail business management software, running loyalty programmes and streaming video advertising and graphics promotions on customer-facing displays."

Meanwhile another NCR development helps retailers reduce their waste. The RealPOS 7168 two-sided printer has two print heads that allow printing on the front and the back of the receipt at the same time.

Says Kirby: "This innovative technology uses up to 45% less paper. Customers benefit too as the reduction in till rolls used means they are less likely to be held up at the checkout by a cashier changing a printer roll that has just run out."

There is another benefit too. More and more receipts include details of a retailer’s special offers or latest advertising campaign. These come on pre-printed paper which means the promotion might have expired before the till roll had run out.

However Kirby says that with the NCR two-sided printer, retailers can customise their customer communications by store or transaction. "The printer has an ample memory to store corporate logos and graphics. It can print in one colour - blue, black or red - on one side of the receipt at no additional cost."

He reckons that by having colour on one side of the receipt, you are able to attract customers’ attention. "A study published by US retail trade magazine Integrated Solutions for Retailers found that more than twice as many shoppers are likely to redeem a coupon printed in colour compared to black or white potentially doubling the average coupon redemption rate of 2-3%. It also revealed that 90% of consumers noticed coloured messages compared to only 31% for black and white."

Finally, Kirby points to the increasing use of self-service technology: "Self-service has experienced double-digit growth over the past three years, with many retailers paying more attention to kiosks and self-checkouts that can increase revenue, cut costs, and improve customer service.

"NCR’s EasyPoint Xpress Order and Pay Kiosk solution is beginning to be used in the US by fast-food retailers and we are likely to see shoppers buying their sandwiches and other snacks from these kiosks in forecourt retailing in the near future. These kiosks allow customers to use a touch screen to order their meals exactly how they want them."

Interestingly the average meal value at a self-service kiosk is 35% higher than at a service counter. The reasons are many: service can be provided more consistently; privacy is increased; customers perceive queues to be shorter; and staff availability issues can be overcome.

"Customers respond more favourably to prompts on screen for additional items than to suggestions from staff, and kiosks are more reliable than staff at remembering to deliver these prompts," says Kirby. "Research shows that customers value privacy and are more likely to order larger drinks and meals at kiosks."


=== Case study: Guy Warner ===

As previously mentioned in Forecourt Trader, Guy Warner’s Mitton Manor Service Station was badly affected by the floods in July. Four foot of flood water engulfed the site and put it out of action for nearly eight weeks. Everything had to be replaced - and quickly.

When it came to replacing the epos system, Guy was looking for a better solution than he’d had previously but he was also looking for a back-office system that featured a slick interface with Sage for his centralised accounts department that manages all five Warner Retail petrol stations and convenience stores.

He opted for Indigo Retail epos and back-office management system as he was already successfully using it to manage high dry-goods volumes in his c-store outlets including the nine-lane Budgens store at Moreton-in-the-Marsh. A key factor in his decision was the Sage interface, which would save his accounts team many hours of admin. Although Indigo Retail has the existing installations at Warner’s, Mitton Manor Service Station was the first to use Radiant’s 1220 EPOS hardware.

Says Guy: "Indigo was great; and theirs was one of the best executed installs I’ve experienced. Also, by utilising broadband technology, they were able to respond to tweaks I needed made, quickly and efficiently.

"I was impressed with the streamlined epos hardware platform and staff have adjusted to the new system extremely well and find it efficient and easy to use."