In the past few years tills have developed from being standalone devices for collecting payments from customers, to being part of a complex "solution" that can support and even control many aspects of a business.

Paul Muncey, head of network sales retail at Certas Energy, says: "Investing in the latest technology provides dealers with significant financial and service advantages. At Certas Energy we work alongside several of the leading suppliers and have an intimate knowledge of the accruing benefits having undertaken a roll-out across the Gulf network with HTEC and its GemPAY system.

"For starters, the internet-based system processes transactions faster and eliminates queues at the checkout, and whereas transaction data was previously downloaded overnight, it’s now done in real time, which improves security. Introducing GemPAY has also allowed Gulf dealers to take full advantage of our industry-leading card acceptance programme, which includes the Shell and BP Fuel Cards as well as the Certas Fuel Card and Gulf Account Card.

"All Gulf dealers are able to utilise our critical mass to source the most competitive deals or we can offer investment if required. As well as attracting new business to Gulf forecourts with the GemPAY system, dealers improve their ability to manage more closely almost every aspect of the business including sales, stock control and patterns of buyer behaviour."

Troops of Leadenham recently undertook a major knockdown rebuild and installed new Tokheim pumps on its Gulf-branded forecourt, but decided to continue with its existing Spar pos system. "Our current HTEC pos system was installed three years ago and has served us well," explains proprietor Rodney Troop. "It meets most of our business needs and is popular among staff, but the system was originally designed for Spar shops, not forecourts. This had left it with some compatibility concerns, most of which have already been ironed out. We are confident that Spar and HTEC will smoothly resolve any outstanding issues."

There are many epos systems available for forecourts, and one of the latest companies looking to grow sales in the UK is Scheidt & Bachmann (S&B). In this country S&B is well known as a pump maker, but in its home market in Germany it offers a much wider range of forecourt solutions, and it is seeking to expand its offer to the UK market.

Paul Watson, sales manager (UK), says it can provide tills, software, and back-office systems, and for multi-site operators there is a head office system too. "In Germany our pos has won various awards. Now we have an English version going into testing. It’s quite flexible and can be configured to particular needs. In Germany its users vary from single sites to big groups." He says one of its strengths is that its wet-stock management is an integral part of the system, rather than some solutions which use a third-party solution tacked onto a standard till system.

Currently he is demonstrating a new phone app, Fuel and go, to prospective customers in the UK. S&B has also just launched an outdoor payment solution that is designed to work with any pump. It is a double-sided terminal that can be fitted on pumps, or if their shape will not accommodate the terminal it can stand alongside. Watson says: "It is a cost-competitive product to penetrate the UK market. Its versatility opens up the opportunity for customers who may have thought ’I can’t fit a terminal to my pump so I can’t have pay-at-pump’, but they can now."

One S&B system using outdoor terminals that is already in use in the UK is on unmanned sites operated by Harvest Energy. The sites operate 24 hours a day throughout the week and are monitored and sales authorised remotely.

Another company aiming to develop business in the UK is Orbis Tech, which with its partner, pay-at-pump terminal maker Invenco, has developed a pos, back-office (bos) and head-office (hos) epos software suite that works across all areas of the petrol station, with no need for third-party software or a mix of software applications. It says this approach gives functionality for fuel, convenience and fast food in one software solution. Coupled with this is the capability for the bos and hos to be hosted, removing expensive infrastructure costs and maintenance. It also means upgrades can be processed quickly, at a low cost, and all delivered through the hos. The partnership upgraded a 100-plus estate in New Zealand this year taking this approach.

Many dealers in the forecourt sector use the Oracle Retail Convenience and Fuel solutions, formerly known as Iridium2 (epos) and Prism2 (back office) before Oracle took over Micros Systems in 2014.

Oracle has appointed a network of companies to support new and existing users of its solutions, known as Oracle Gold Partners, one of which is P&C Services. Tim Lamb, account manager at P&C Services, says: "With so many customers using these solutions P&C Services were keen to offer a modern approach to supporting them. As well as the obvious benefits offering help desk and hardware support and a discount on the Oracle licence renewals P&C can carry out upgrades, new installations and training. Our dedicated projects team ensure that upgrades and installations are progressed smoothly and with the raft of other services offered by P&C we can even assist with any electrical and counter modification requirements.

"The P&C support team working out of our offices in Exmouth, is quick to find out what the issue might be and what the correct fix is, along with being proactive in keeping the database up to date, which stops unnecessary problems happening in the future. This is reducing system down time and, more importantly, maximising shops up time.

"We are finding that our group training workshops are proving very popular and several of our group customers have already run profit clinics to help both site managers and area managers understand how they can extract the best management data from their Oracle Retail systems. We are also seeing a good uptake in independent retailers taking the opportunity to better understand the system. The important thing to remember for retailers using these systems is that P&C, as an Oracle Gold Partner, is here to help and offer advice to customers; as well as working closely with important industry partners such as Aspen Promotions and Suresite."

HTEC is another company with a full range of solutions, and has wide coverage across the forecourt sector. Business development director Peter Harding says there are 4,000 GemPAY card terminals deployed across sites including Jet, Gulf and Texaco. He adds: "We’ve got equipment on probably 50% of the UK market in one way or another."

One of its latest introductions is a cigarette vending machine, linked to the pos, designed to help staff cope with the new restrictions in the tobacco market. He says control and consistency is managed between the pos and the vending machine, helping with the reconciliation process. Also, as sites go dark, there is an option to put media screens on the door of the cigarette vending machine or they can put shelves on to display other high-value products.

In addition there is a new media server called Locaste, which can deliver media messages to any screens around the store or on the pumps. Harding says one company is already looking to put large screens next to its front door, giving it the opportunity for messaging or advertising.

Looking ahead he expects marketing personalised for individual customers will be developed. HTEC already has numberplate recognition in operation on some customers’ systems, but currently it is only used for security purposes. However, he says systems could be developed which would identify regular customers, and tailor offers to them at the till.

Clive Hughes, business development manager (UK) at CBE, says the company is conscious of the needs of independent retailers. He explains: "We are very accustomed to dealing with independent retailers and understand their businesses are different to the larger retailers. If one of their tills goes down, or their system goes down, that is critical, so our systems are designed to not let that happen from a redundancy point of view. Also our systems and support infrastructure is set up so we can react very fast and get problems resolved immediately, so there is no downtime for the retailers."

He adds: "Everything is moving to the cloud. People may be nervous about security but there have been huge advances and there is likely to be more advanced security on the specialist companies hosting the cloud rather than an in-house system. It gives a lot more flexibility to operate remotely."

He says the technology available to independent retailers is on a par with that available to the biggest companies. "Technology is levelling the playing field to allow the independent retailers to compete with the major multiples."

Options with CBE’s system include mobile tills, self-checkout and contactless payment, all of which help to speed up service. Looking ahead, he says that in addition to the cloud solution, CBE is also developing new technologies on the Universal Windows Platform. He explains: "That pretty much allows applications to run on any device such as smart phone, tablets, laptops, PCs. In due course the hardware will become irrelevant and the software will be the key."

Case Study: darsham service station

The tills at Jet’s Darsham Service Station in Suffolk, were changed from Oracle Iridium 1/Prism 2 to the Point Four EMS system earlier this summer. Owner Chris Woodruff says: "Currently we’re only using three tills, but have the facility to add a fourth one at a mobile unit.
"The system links in with self-service tills which we’re planning to introduce over the coming months. This means we’ll be able to switch over from manned to self-service tills at the push of a button."
He explains that one of the reasons for changing was the versatility of the new system compared to the old one. New tills and functions can be added without any major programming changes. Each till only requires a network port and a 13-amp plug, so they can easily be moved to anywhere in the store, offering flexibility for the future.
He adds: "Instant polling is also a major benefit. Instead of nightly polling, with the new system we have Sage Pay so as soon as the credit card is accepted, the payment is taken immediately. No credit card data is stored on our site, making it safer for our customers and better for us because there’s no risk of funds not arriving in the bank each day.
"Installation of the system was very quick and straightforward. The Point Four system is a ’plug in and go’ solution so we only had to shut the site for 20 minutes while we disconnected the Oracle tills and polled the credit card payments out of the old system.
"I’ve been very impressed by the system and the benefits it’s delivering. As well as being simple to use, it is extremely reliable. We haven’t once had a site down since installation, whereas we had quite a few with the previous system. As the tills all operate independently, if one till ever did have an issue we could simply move over to one of the other tills. The fact that the system is live 24/7 is invaluable every time we sell one item, our stock is instantly updated.
"Before we would be placing a stock order on data that was six to 12 hours old, but now we’re ordering based on up-to-the-minute stock levels. Our staff find it much more user-friendly and like the fact that they can get on the tills and use them instantly. They also like the fact that you can make changes to a product price file on the back office system and it instantly transfers the data to the handheld scanners.
"Changing your epos system is a significant undertaking, and although the UK-based software support is expensive, you get what you pay for and in my mind having that support in place is worth every penny. Like all forecourt operators, our epos system is a major part of our operation, and with the new system installed, we’re now far better placed for the future of forecourt convenience stores."