In many ways, electronic point of sale (epos) systems are a forecourt trader’s best friend, efficiently taking on board all those mundane, time-consuming tasks you hate, such as stock control, ordering and price promotions.
And technology has finally embraced the modern face of the forecourt industry – systems can now be easily and seamlessly linked to most aspects of the forecourt business, from shop promotions and accounts to security and fuel monitoring – whereas in the past many retailers struggled to juggle conflicting systems.
Simon Lurie, director of business services at EKW, points out: “One of the problems with ‘packaging’ different systems and back-office software – which many forecourts have come across – is that the data does not always tally up, effectively causing inefficiency and accounting headaches for petrol forecourt owners. Today’s forecourt convenience stores need pos systems that can deal with shop performance, including multi-product promotions updating the stock management and accounting records in a single process.”
And Billy Tank, sales director at retail petroleum and convenience solutions specialist Torex, agrees that today’s systems should be able to integrate seamlessly in order to minimise conflict and streamline the business. “An intelligent epos solution is vital in today’s forecourt retailing environment,” he says. “Consumers demand speedy transactions and flexible payment methods. Retailers require one integrated epos and pump control to minimise the equipment on the counter, which all too often is covered with different systems to manage separate functions.”
And Stuart Forrister, managing director at SoftOption adds: “As the customer expectation of products and services becomes ever more sophisticated, the transaction processing and management control processes a retailer has to contend with become ever larger and more complicated. Therefore the main requirements of any epos system would be to provide as much integration of the various control systems, enabling real-time information to be presented in a meaningful way so that key business decisions can be made quickly.”
So what systems are available for today’s forecourt retailer? Many companies offer a choice of a complete package – covering front of shop, back office, accounts and fuel – or separate modules that you can fit into your business and integrate with other systems. Iridium from Torex, an integrated epos for shop and fuel sales, is one of the most widely used epos systems in the forecourt industry. The company says it is used by more than 1,250 retailers and because it is accepted by all the major UK oil companies, all fuel and fuel loyalty cards are accepted. In addition, it uses the Codax system to link to car washes.
Iridium can be partnered with the back-office system Prism and also the head office package Prism Plus. Tank explains: “Iridium and Prism, when linked together provide the only fuel-integrated system with electronic links to all the major symbol groups. This allows the retailers to place automatic orders and receive product updates, price updates and electronic delivery notes directly to the system, regardless of which major supplier they use.”
On the shop side, Iridium has a promotions manager that enables mix ‘n’ match and bogof promotions to be created. “The ability to offer promotions has become a widespread requirement over the past year as the shop offering has grown,” says Tank.
Other key features of Iridium include electronic funds transfer (EFT); Solo and Electron acceptance, optional cash-back and ‘quick keys’ for short cuts that can be customised to the retailer’s needs.
Another established player is VBI, which has been operating in the forecourt sector for 20 years. Its latest epos product is Indexia, a chip & pin compatible system that includes a split-screen display (to show complete forecourt status); a full electronic audit facility; shop promotions; a full transaction logging database with roll-back recovery and online mobile phone top-ups.
Simon Hollingsworth, managing director at VBI says that Indexia employs the latest Windows operating system, making it ‘incredibly easy’ to use. “The incorporation of touch-screen technology enables the retailer to configure the screen layout as required which can replicate a previous system if necessary to aid familiarity,” he explains. The system also has full approval for a variety of hardware options including Epson, Fujitsu, Posiflex and VBI industrial PC pos.
Indexia is integrated to stock control systems that allows retailers to keep stock information up to date in real time and to streamline supply chain processes. “The epos system can automatically determine which products are fast moving and when they need replenishing,” explains Hollingsworth.
Indexia also links to back-office systems, such as VBI’s Intellia, and to accounting packages. Hollingsworth maintains that using all the elements from the same supplier minimises problems, adds to efficiency and helps streamline the business.
One of the newest products to the epos market is miPOS, which launches from EKW Group this month and which the company describes as a ‘fully integrated system from pos to accounts’. Key features include touch-screen technology; full promotion/discount support; a local accounts package – including the ability to enter sales manually and to create invoices manually (ie with comments); access to pos through the internet (for reporting and monitoring); and the capability of linking to a back-office catalogue.
Simon Lurie, director of business services at EKW, says that although new to the UK, the system is tried-and-tested in Europe: “Our Manager International accounting software and new pos system, miPOS, are already being used in forecourts across Europe and retailers like the fact the pos system deals with the customers quickly. It comes down to the phrase, ‘retail in detail’ – retailers require information and need staff to get on with selling and to be able to use the data effectively.”
Lurie adds: “The miPOS and Manager International package is a bespoke system for forecourt traders. With miPOS, information such as pricing, sales data and invoicing, configures across the whole system. This means retailers don’t need to spend as much time on maintenance of systems and tedious book-keeping.”
MiPOS can be bought as a standalone product as well as a fully integrated system. “It has full promotions/discount support, wholesaler communications and fast touch-screen or keyboard data entry,” says Lurie. It also has an integrated card reader, or can communicate with a standalone low-end terminal, allowing retailers to accept most fuel and credit cards.
Meanwhile, CTN Systems has an epos solution aimed specifically at independent retailers. The system holds a Master Product File of 450,000 items that can be downloaded at the touch of a button and because CTN Systems has no tie-ups with major wholesalers, it suits independents that want to shop around, enabling them to electronically order items from all the major wholesalers. What’s more, the company reckons that its Systems Superstore is so good at ensuring the business is run efficiently that it can pay for itself within nine months.
Hugh Fenton, sales & marketing director at CTN Systems, says: “Choosing a system is important as epos should substantially increase profitability and pay for itself within months, if not weeks. SuperStore, for example, can minimise stock holding, eliminate wastage and pay the right amount of VAT. This is due to the fact that the right epos system will allow you to confirm to VAT rule 727, only paying VAT on what you have actually sold, not a random estimate. This can save up to two-thirds of a VAT bill.”
One recent development to SuperStore is the inclusion of Supervision, a security device that offers a digital CCTV connection. CCTV is linked directly into SuperStore, enabling retailers to instantly search live or archived images at the touch of a button. The link means that any recorded image is matched to the operator, the till or the transaction, providing what the company describes as “intelligent and instant visual access to archived images”.
Tokheim’s Fuelpos system also has a new security feature called Big Brother, a camera link that interfaces to a CCTV system. “The whole transaction is followed and when the customer comes in to pay for the fuel a photograph of them appears on the pos screen,” explains Carey, UK sales manager at Retail Petroleum Solutions, the exclusive reseller for Fuelpos. “The transaction can also be recalled by receipt number for the appropriate photographs,” he adds.
Other recent developments include tank gauge probes that connect directly to Fuelpos offering reconciliation and environmental monitoring. “This negates the need for an expensive gauge as the Fuelpos acts as the gauge and builds the tank tables for reconciliation, costing up to 50 per cent less than a similar tank gauge,” says Carey.
RPS offers Fuelpos as a standalone unit or as a package connected to a back-office system.
It says that the Fuelpos 15” touch-screen display makes it easy to use, while continual software enhancements (there are three free-of-charge releases a year) mean retailers can keep us with technology.
Added security is also a feature of SoftOption’s Retail POS, a small footprint scanning epos system with a 12.1” colour touch-screen. Managing director Stuart Forrester explains: “We have implemented a pre-payment fuel dispenser control on our Retail POS tills for sites who require higher transaction security, along with a LAN-based CCTV system that captures digital images of all fuel transactions. Indeed all the CCTV cameras images can be accessed from all our Retail POS tills as well as from the back office.”
Retail POS has options for integrated pump control, CCTV, EFT facilities with online authorisation and cash-back, and local credit accounts, enabling the system to be tailored to exact needs. It can have up to nine pay positions, which communicate in real time with the back-office.
HTEC, meanwhile, has the HydraPOS system, an integrated pump and pos, with in-pump payment terminal control. It runs on industry-standard PC hardware with a touch-screen user interface, which the company says exempts it from hardware-related limitations on life expectancy. The software, meanwhile, uses a windows-based application with in-house modules. “There is therefore no dependency on third parties which is particularly significant in the handling of fuel cards,” explains Andrew Watson, head of forecourt automation for the dealer market.
He adds: “While HTEC is a relatively small company, our products are diverse, enabling us to survive the peaks and troughs in the petrol business. HTEC is here for the duration, which is why we are backed by the Asdas, Morrisons and Fuelforces of this world.”Hydrapos will integrate to most back-office systems, although HTEC favours the YP Electronics package. The company also offers a web-based ‘virtual’ back-office system as well as an online ANPR facility.
Another epos system that will integrate to most back-office systems is Passport from Gilbarco Veeder-Root. The company says this is the latest generation pos that is also compatible with third-party pumps and handles oil company payment cards; it is also chip & pin compatible. The company claims the typical lead time from enquiry to installation to a tailored Passport system is eight to 12 weeks.
INSTALLATION & AFTER-SALES
Once you have chosen your epos system, it is important to work with the supplier to ensure that installation or upgrades cause minimum disruption to your business.
SoftOption, for example, carries out a pre-installation site survey to make sure downtime is minimised and says 24 to 48 hours on site is needed to prepare all cabling and that downtime (between switching the old system off and the new system on) is normally no more than a few hours. Similarly, RPS says that Fuelpos is essentially ‘plug and play’ with installation taking two to four hours and in many cases being installed without site closure
Another factor to consider before signing on the dotted line is aftersales support – ongoing technical support as well as access to system upgrades should be offered. Finally, although systems are increasingly easy to use, ensure that staff training will be made available. Torex’s Retail Installation Engineers train staff on the same day as installation, with training lasting an hour and an electronic guide as back up. Similarly, VBI offers training on site or at its own training centres.