With the economic road ahead still looking rocky, it’s more important than ever to use the latest epos to beat the competition. That’s according to Richard Quarmsby, managing director at Torex Petroleum and Convenience, who warns that retailers should look at the greater savings that epos can bring to their business during the credit crunch rather than dwelling on the initial cost.

He says: "By using advanced retail technology to streamline operational processes and improve the customer experience, forecourt owners can give themselves a key advantage over the competition in today’s challenging trading conditions.

"Managers should consider the range of solutions now available to support the different aspects of running a forecourt business. At the checkout, for example, pos systems can now accept contactless payments technology, dramatically reducing transaction times and queue lengths, leading to a better in-store experience. Mobile pos devices can deliver further improvements, allowing staff to process transactions around the store such as during the rush hour."

Paul Cooper, business development manager at Tokheim, agrees: "The initial capital outlay might look high but, for an average site, the return a retailer can get will usually pay for the system within two years. For example, a typical epos and back-office system will usually cost about £50 a week to run. And that £50 can easily be generated by the extra margin and profitability gained by using the system."

Key trends

Quarmsby adds that business analysis tools can help retailers identify key trends affecting their business, such as changes in demand for certain goods, seasonal fluctuations in footfall or even energy consumption levels.

He says: "With employee wages accounting for a significant proportion of expenditure for forecourt businesses, workforce management technology also allows managers to control costs better by allocating staff more effectively, enlisting more assistants for busier periods and fewer during quieter times."

In addition, Quarmsby says the issue of security is naturally a priority for forecourt managers.

He points out that epos technology can link with a store’s CCTV system to "closely monitor transactions, helping reduce internal shrinkage and identify suspicious activity".

When it comes to managing your workforce, Richard Goodall, group sales and marketing director at retail software company PCMS Group, says: "The petrol retail sector is known for having a high turnover of staff and a reliance on a pool of part-time or temporary staff. Therefore, the chosen epos system needs to be as simple and easy to use as possible helping reduce time in training new recruits and reducing the potential for errors through under-billing or refunds."

Goodall warns that PCI compliance Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards is one issue that forecourt traders need to embrace when it comes to epos. He says: "Petrol stations are often targeted by fraudulent card users and these new global standards mean that if retailers don’t ensure that their card payment systems are robust and compliant with PCI, then they are liable for loss that, up until now, has been covered by credit card companies. PCI comes into force in July 2010."

Billy Tank, managing director of Indigo Retail Technology, says PCI compliance is the new focus for anti-fraud agencies. According to Tank, Indigo systems encrypt card data to ensure that it cannot be accessed illegally or fraudulently after the card transaction has taken place.

He says: "We can support the independent dealer in taking the necessary steps to become PCI compliant. For existing customers using the Indigo pos the upgrade is easy, a software licence upgrade and possibly new PIN pads are all that’s required. For retailers without our pos we offer the Indigo EPS. This is a standalone transaction management solution that replaces the incumbent Chip & PIN device. Transactions are taken through a PCI-compliant PIN pad and managed by the cashier through a compact touch screen. Indigo EPS features virtually a zero footprint, an excellent user interface and very fast transaction times. This solution already embraces online authorisation via broadband and will soon be offering online settlement." Indigo also offers consultancy to assist retailers with all aspects of PCI compliance.

Meanwhile, Mark McMurtie, marketing director of payments software company Postilion International, says transactions need to be handled securely but retailers must also have the flexibility to introduce new services rapidly. He explains: "Security is a particularly important issue at the moment, especially when it comes to processing credit cards. And the petrol sector is particularly vulnerable in this area. The main message is that unless a retailer has just upgraded their security then they need to be looking at how they can do this if they’ve not changed anything for a few years it’s absolutely no use at all. The criminal moves to the weakest link."

Postilion supplies software for a wide range of devices for the forecourt and store sides of the business, including pay-at-pump and fuel cards. McMurtie says card acceptance technology is moving fast, adding: "For example, a company may choose to restrict the use of its fuel cards to weekdays only, and with the use of Postilion online authorisation the retailer can update the settings in their software to incorporate this. Or there could be restrictions on the type of fuel, or maybe the card can only be used for wetstock but not drystock."

Cooper says Tokheim has been developing its Fuelpos system, adding extras such as integrated tank and wetstock management.

He explains: "A recent innovation is that Fuelpos can now report on an integrated temperature-compensated stock reconciliation.

"Fuelpos connects to the probes in the tanks, and it can read the pump accurately, reporting on savings made directly to the retailer due to the change in the metered temperature, and the ambient temperature in the underground tanks."

Tokheim has also been working on its pay-at-pump technology, and Cooper says there is still a growing trend towards this technology.

He says: "The culture is changing on pay-at-pump, people are travelling more to places in Europe and the US where they use this technology. There’s always been a bit of resilience when it comes to the UK retailer using pay-at-pump retailers want the customer in the shop. But that is changing."

Cooper adds that Tokheim has also made the cashdesk end of the business easier to use, with clearer icons and simple pop-up windows.

In addition, it now has an integrated EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) solution that connects to the oil companies’ credit card schemes, which Cooper says means retailers need less equipment to process transactions.

He warns it is becoming increasingly important for retailers to use the latest epos in store, explaining: "As fuel margins shrink, sites are concentrating more on shop sales activity. So an epos system needs to be able to monitor stock as stock control is a major concern. For example, if a site is over-ordering it will end up storing stock it doesn’t need, and if it is under-ordering then it will run out of stock and risk losing sales. It is essential to keep a tight check on this."

Finally, Cooper says that over 90% of all system issues with Fuelpos are resolved remotely by the helpdesk and without the need for a site visit, so reducing downtime of the system.

Energy savings

Another trend in epos is reducing energy consumption and therefore retailer costs. One company making progress in this area is NCR, which says its RealPOS 80XRT technology has a lifespan which is around double that of a general purpose PC with a cashbox. It also allows new technologies to be added as they become more commonplace, such as fingerprint recognition for employee log-ins.

According to the company’s managing director for UK, Ireland and the Nordics, Elton Birden, the RealPOS 80XRT features more powerful processors and uses less energy than previous technologies.

The till is more energy-efficient and can often be serviced remotely.

Birden says: "Cutting power consumption lowers electrical bills and helps the environment. Importantly, it also reduces heat dissipation which helps improve overall system reliability because a cooler operating environment typically increases system stability and extends equipment lifetimes."

Goodall of PCMS Group says his advice to any forecourt owner especially SMEs who is looking at renewing their epos system is to make sure that what they buy is future-proofed and has the capability to be upgraded relatively easily.

He says: "When looking at the options available, consider the long term. Spending a bit more now for a package that includes a development road map will pay dividends in the future by enabling the business to be flexible and on the front foot."

The company says its epos solution, Vision BeanStore, can be tailored for independent forecourts, offering services at the till such as barcode scanning and issuing voids and gift receipts. It is described as being a versatile application that can change, evolve and grow with the retailer. Goodall concludes: "IT and epos are key elements in customer service. Customers want quick, accurate and secure service, and if they don’t get it then they will go elsewhere."