When tills, or pos as they are known in the jargon, became epos, it opened up a host of new challenges and opportunities. More than two decades later the suppliers are still bringing out new refinements to their systems, as well as entirely new functions, and if anything the pace of developments seems to be quickening.
There are plenty of ’solutions’ to choose from when it comes to the ’wet’ side of the business, but one of the biggest challenges facing the forecourt sector is the variety of retailing that is springing up on the ’dry’ side. Most sites have some form of convenience offering and many are bringing in additional services such as a Subway store or coffee shop, and much of the development in epos is focused on integrating the wet and dry sides of the business and ensuring forecourt operators can take full advantage of the latest convenience concepts.
BCP provides its Momentum system for the convenience sector and supplies a forecourt solution in partnership with HTEC. Richard Marshall, retail systems business development manager, explains: "We offer a back-office solution for fuel sites on the back of HTEC’s HydraPOS system." He says that for a basic forecourt there is not a lot to choose between different systems, but adds: "Where we come into our own is where someone has a number of different stores with fuel and dry sites. A head office can control all those sites and have uniformity across them."
Spar is one of the largest users of BCP’s system and Marshall says the work BCP has done providing solutions for the motorway services provider Westmorland demonstrates the versatility of its system.
He says: "Someone like Westmorland has a mixed estate with cafés, stores and forecourts so we run our systems in all their sites, with the forecourts using the HTEC tills and their dry side using our back office and our tills. They are all controlled from a single head office. The combination of our back office and HTEC’s HydraPOS gives a solution that is deeper and richer in functionality than other solutions."
For operators with a c-store, it will provide full stock control and promotions management. He says: "The promotions are much more sophisticated in a convenience environment than they are in a fuel environment. What we’ve done with HTEC is interface their pos so it replicates all the deals that we do in our Momentum pos.
"That means that you can run a mix. For instance in Northern Ireland you’ll go to a site to buy your fuel, but they’ll also have a c-store and a bakers, and they’ll all be controlled by the same system. So you may have dry tills running the c-store and the bakers, and fuel tills handling the fuel element but they will all be controlled by the back office as one store."
With smartphones becoming an integral part of so many consumers’ lives, the system also harnesses some of the latest technology such as mobile loyalty and i-beacons, which will send messages to smartphone users as they enter a store. At its simplest, the i-beacon can be used to send an offer but Marshall explains: "We are looking at ways retailers can make use of i-beacons not only by pushing deals to consumers to increase footfall and turnover but also to get much richer data back about what people are doing in their stores. This means they’ll be able to see what deals are successful, and how many people walk into the stores and don’t buy anything to suggest where merchandising may not be correct."
Tokheim also provides an epos and back-office solution with FuelPOS and Konnect, and UK sales director Adrian Beeby says: "Every global oil company uses it on at least some of its sites. It is the most widely used system across Western Europe."
Where Tokheim’s system scores over other solutions, he says, is in its connectivity to other forecourt equipment, such as the Tokheim Eye CCTV system, which is distributed in the UK by Metro Security.
Although it’s primarily designed to stop people stealing things, imagery from the dispenser and cashier area can also help to identify individual customer’s buying habits and then be used to tailor promotions to them.
The system can also be connected to other parts of the forecourt such as the price sign, so that it can be synchronised with any price changes at the pumps, and changes can be made remotely or at pre-set times.
Tokheim is also looking at smartphone technology with an app for paying at the pump. Beeby says: "It works with Bluetooth receivers on dispensers, so using GPS it knows which site you are at. You put your password in, put in the pump number and fuel requirements and mileage. It checks everything and then authorises the transaction and tells the customer to leave their phone in the car. Beacons on the dispenser show the customer when it is authorised.
"We see that developing as an alternative to a fuel card, so instead of a company like Allstar issuing you with a fuel card, they give you a mobile app. It’s more secure because you have to use a pin code, and if your phone gets stolen it’s easy to block it, so we see it first being used primarily on a fuel card and then more and more for credit cards.
"We decided not to go down the Paypal or Google wallet route because there are very high charges for retailers. For a retailer with a Paypal account some businesses have to pay 10% or 15%.
"We have a system called OASE (Online Authorisation Switching Environment) which we use for credit card transactions and the payment app is connected to OASE so the transaction for the site is just through the normal acquirer such as Suresite or Barclays, so we keep the cost right down."
CBE provides solutions for a number of Top 50 Indie companies such as the 12 sites operated by Sewell On the Go, and earlier this year the Convenience Retailer of the Year Parkfoot Garage installed its epos system (see box above left).
Marketing manager Seamus McHugh says the system offers a high degree of integration, reducing the number of terminals required so services such as mobile phone top-ups, Paypoint and Codex car wash transactions are all integrated into the same till.
The system also offers a highly sophisticated security system to detect till fraud and drive-offs.
It monitors and records every transaction providing video footage. When a drive-off occurs, the system logs the receipt and matches it up with the video footage to provide a drive-off report.
One of the latest additions is the option for cigarette vending, linking to VDMS’s (Vend Data Media Solutions) machine. The vending machines are situated behind the tills like a conventional tobacco gantry, and when a customer buys tobacco the staff touch a picture of the product on the till screen and it is dispensed by the machine.
The products are not visible, so the machine is already compliant with the display ban due to come into force in smaller stores next April, and digital media panels on the front of the unit can be used for in-store image building and promotional offers.
Tony Hanning, UK general manager at VDMS, says the system is widely used in Ireland, particularly by Spar, and is just being introduced into the UK.
He says: "The system simplifies service for staff in the light of the display ban, and it proofs against the arrival of plain packaging. It also boosts security and reduces shrinkage of a high value product."
VDMS has worked with CBE on its first installations but Hanning says the system can be adapted to integrate with any epos system.
Micros Systems, is another leading provider of information technology solutions for the forecourt, retail and hospitality industries. Earlier this year it announced that Euro Garages was upgrading its estate to its Iridium 2 epos and Prism 2 back-office system, and that Micros would be the sole supplier of epos and back-office systems to any new Euro Garages forecourt sites.
At the time of the deal Colin Reeve, director EAME development Micros CFS, commented: "Euro Garages selection of Micros as sole pos and back office supplier further strengthens our position as the dominant provider in the forecourt and convenience sector and demonstrates to the industry how the retailing power of Micros technology makes it the right choice for serious operators in this sector."
Micros has also been piloting a system called MiFuel, which enables customers to pay at the pump using their smartphone, but the company is remaining tight-lipped about any plans to roll it out while a global takeover of Micros by Oracle, a supplier of business software and hardware, beds in.
The $5.3bn (£3.3bn) deal was completed last month with Oracle releasing a statement saying: "Oracle is committed to protecting and enhancing customer investments in Micros solutions. Oracle plans to continue to invest in the hospitality and retail industries. We expect this will add additional functionality and capabilities at a quicker pace. In addition, Micros customers will benefit from better integration and alignment with Oracle’s other product offerings."
With another industry giant turning its focus on the forecourt sector it looks as if the pace of growth in the development of epos systems, and the functions they can perform, is unlikely to slacken.
Parkfoot Garage, the Kent-based Convenience Retailer of the Year, has installed CBE’s epos solution.
The 24-hour convenience and fuel store operating under the Spar and BP brands is run by retailer David Charman, and has been a family-owned business serving the local community in West Malling for over 60 years.
The site underwent a £250,000 overhaul last year which included a refit and extending the Spar store from 1,500sq ft to 2,950sq ft to include an in-store butchery, delicatessen and large chilled section. The forecourt also includes a wash centre with two rollover car washes.
The CBE system selected by Parkfoot Garage includes:
Three FutaTill epos units with customer-facing advertising screens
Three scanner scale units at the pos
Interface to Codax car wash
Link to BP NCTT payment terminal
Fully integrated forecourt solution for complete wet stock and dry stock management
WiFi handheld device for mobile business control.
David, who is also an executive committee member of the PRA, feels that the CBE system will bring enormous benefits to his business. He says: "I have worked with a lot of epos systems over the years but the CBE solution is the most complete package that I have seen to date.
"We had a number of ’must-have’ requirements that CBE were able to fulfil but they also demonstrated how their system can be utilised in many other ways to improve our operations within the store. I have no doubt that this investment will prove to be extremely beneficial to our store in the coming years."