Forecourt of the Future
Man on the coast using his smartphone to order pizza online. All screen graphics are made up.
May 7, 2018
Integrating mobile into your forecourt operation can help personalize the experience for customers and help you move toward the forecourt of the future.
The forecourt of the future, where customers pull up to a gas pump and say to their car, their phone or the pump itself, ‘fill up 15 gallons, give me directions to Highway 47 and purchase coffee and a donut,’ is not here yet, but may be not too far off.
“As technology and the mobile-first approach continues to transform our business, personalization via interface with the consumer through app and beacon technology will have a large influence on forecourt marketing,” said Mike Rogers, senior vice president and chief strategy and information officer at Pilot Flying J. “We expect to see auto-start pumps activated by the car playing a role. Connected vehicles with apps built into the dash from the factory, personalizing the messages at the pump with relevant ads and content will help.”
Getting there won’t be hard or costly, but the key is to start with a forecourt that is welcoming.
“The forecourt is your first opportunity to establish a relationship,” Rogers said. “The exterior of a building gives consumers their first impression, so a forecourt needs to promise the experience they are looking for. Our guests are looking for a clean, safe place to stop and we want to provide them with a well-lit and inviting experience that is equivalent to the quality inside the store.
While the forecourt began as a place to hold gas pumps, even without advertising, it became the enticement for a driver to stop or a deal-breaker that made them keep going.
“Quite a long time ago, I gave talks at fuel conferences and I talked about speed of the pumps,” said Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research Associates, which monitors global advancements in technology. “I said, ‘there’s nothing worse than a slow pump. If I find a slow pump, I probably won’t be back because I don’t want to stand around and have it dribble in.’ And, convenience store chains made sure they had fast pumps.”
They also made sure they took advantage of drivers’ attention, and the forecourt evolved into signs, lights and video. Now many are seeing the advantage of using it to promote store items.
“As a distributor of Sunoco, we arranged to use the Applause system at our sites,” said Ray McIntosh, president of McIntosh Energy, which operates four Mac Food Stores in Fort Wayne, Ind. “It provided us the chance to upgrade our dispensers with video technology. It is impressive to turn on the pump and have weather and news presented at the pump. We do not currently market our stores at the pump with the video, but I am going to investigate open slots that we can use for our specific stores and specials.”
Building the customer experience in the forecourt involves both technology and infrastructure because your customers can’t see a video or use their app if they don’t stop.
One key is lighting. “The 2017 GasBuddy Foot Traffic” report said that “stations near interstates with above-average outdoor lighting ratings on GasBuddy saw a 50% increase in foot traffic” between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Lighting and equipment also provide space and visibility for technology that improves the appeal.
“We have transformed our forecourt by installing and upgrading modernized canopies and fuel dispensers to include large and engaging HD (high definition) video screens, as well as guaranteeing the safety and security of customer payment types with secure payment transaction technology,” Rogers said.
With technology advancing and mobile and wireless payments becoming easier, payments and personalized—not just customized—advertisements at the pump will become the norm.
With pumps becoming aware of who is using them, the offers become more personal.
“You don’t want to just customize the experience for your customers, you want to personalize it,” Burrus said. “Personalization is difficult unless you have these technologies. As a store owner or an employee, you can’t keep track of all these customers, but AI (artifical intelligence) can. It’s going to be connected to you—your app—and it’s going to be connected to that Amazon-like voice that’s out by the pumps and that screen that’s out there that can serve up what you want, not what someone else wants.”
The first step in this is to tie in the mobile app, because video is not personal enough.
“The problem with ads at the pump with a video screen is they’re only good if you have something relevant that you need up there,” Burrus said. “You don’t know what they need, unless you get facial recognition. It’s very inexpensive, high-definition and very small. You don’t even know there’s a camera.
Technology is getting so good at facial recognition, with which a frequent shopper can be recognized over time, and once you know it’s a frequent buyer you already know what their shopping history is, so you can increasingly put up better offers.
But with an app and a phone, the possibilities become nearly unlimited.
“Loyalty cards are not intelligent,” Burrus said. “You have to remember to bring it. If I have my app and my phone, I can say to my phone, I want a cup of coffee and doughnut, and because of GPS, it will know how far away I am, so it’ll have it ready when you’re there. And as I go to this store more often, it gets to know what I like or need, and it can start to anticipate some of my customer needs.”
Once drivers trust the app on their devices to provide quality offers, they’ll also trust it to make payments.
“Unlike professional drivers who visit our locations, the four-wheel guest may never intend to enter the store, so it is important to look at all types of interactive technology to engage with our customers,” Rogers said. “As cash becomes less prevalent and customers become accustomed to enhanced payment technologies, it is important for guests to have access to a great digital wallet, such as with the myPilot app and our touchless payment technology.”
And as technology becomes smaller, cheaper and easier to use, the day may soon come where convenience stores know their customers and are able to let customers know what’s available, suggest new items or even have them waiting or available for delivery to the next destination. All it takes is getting in on new technology and providing offerings that customers expect from other industries.
“What it’s going to take is the convenience store to have signage in some way letting them know that we can get you whatever you want in the day, and that we’ve taken convenience to a whole new level,” Burrus said.
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