The future of filling stations is tech fueled
Our filling stations are changing and it’s not just the switch from fuel pumps to electric charging points. Arno Van Ruymbeke looks at how retail tech is also helping filling stations adapt to their new economic challenges.
Have you noticed that car filling stations are changing? Now when you pull up on the forecourt, you see more and more people plugging in their electric car to charge, alongside those traditionalists still filling up with fuel at the pumps.
With growing concern about environmental impact, it appears to be a societal change that looks set to continue. Transport is the fastest-growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sector, expected to reach 30% of total GHG emissions in the future, as well as contributing to air pollution.
Europe is addressing this problem by continuing to accelerate its purchase of electric cars, with a predicted Compond Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 25% between 2020 and 2027. Soon, we will have to change the name of fuel stations to charging stations!
But this trend is already having a huge impact on these station operators. Profits on fuel are being squeezed with high prices and less demand and fuel thefts - where drivers fill-up and drive away without paying – are a growing challenge.
So, what can filling stations do to address these economic challenges? Increasingly they are turning to technology and a host of solutions that can assist with protecting profits and attracting new customers to drive revenue growth.
The latest AI-enabled security cameras are being used to protect profits. They can monitor activity at the pumps in realtime and automate actions when criminal behaviour is spotted. By processing information quickly and automatically on the camera, without the need for human intervention, essential time can be saved when identifying fuel theft, capturing the vehicle number plate and informing police.
Visually attracting new customers
Technology is also being used to attract additional revenues. While those electric vehicle passengers are waiting for their cars to charge, they have more time to spend browsing in-store. Attractive digital signage, using the latest displays and projectors can be used to draw customers into the store while they wait. For additional revenues, the displays can even be rented out to other brands for advertising.
Optimising retail sales
Once in the store, filling station retail outlets are typically smaller than other stores, so owners are keen to use technology to maximise their floor space and save time and money. One easy way to achieve this is with the introduction of Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL).
Filling station operator, team energie GmbH & Co. KG, in the north of Germany ran a pilot trial with Panasonic Connect at its first fuel station in Flensburg, near the German and Danish border. 800 electronic shelf labels were installed and working in just one day. Each ESL is connected to the central Point of Sale (POS) system, enabling pricing to be changed at the touch of a button. As well improving pricing accuracy, it saved a lot of staff time – team energie proved they could save 30 minutes a day, per store using the automated system.
ESL is also ideal for increasing sales through marketing. For example, the easy use of the system helps with the fast introduction of new product trends with new lines priced centrally in seconds. The electronic labels can also be customised to display logos, flash special offers or provide more product information, using NFC and QR Codes.
Supply chain automation
The latest AI-enabled supply chain software from companies such as Panasonic’s BlueYonder can also assist in making the efficient ordering, delivery and management of goods even more profitable for retailers. By monitoring the availability of stock on the shelves and in the warehouse, ordering can be automated to optimise the supply chain. In the future, these AI enabled systems could even be monitoring local weather information to know when to order extra ice-creams or de-icer!
More customer insight
As as security, AI can be used in-store to bring more intelligence to retail. For example, the latest AI-enabled cameras, can be used for better understanding customer buying patterns. They can monitor customer movements through the store and identify buying cold and hot spots to help optimise the store layout and sales potential in the retail space.
Lastly, it’s not just inside the store where there are new revenue opportunities. For those stations in prime community locations, the renting of smartlockers is another revenue generating option. Last mile deliveries are under pressure and not particularly environmentally friendly. So, if customers can pick up their goods as they pass, it’s a convenient solution and potentially also brings more traffic to the station’s retail store.
The Panasonic Smartlocker solution even offers a range of four different temperature lockers – ambient, chilled, freezer and heated – for different uses from deliveries to storing hot takeaways and frozen goods.
Tech fuelling the future
When you think about it, it’s not just the technology on our filling station forecourts that will be changing. As well as switching from fuel pumps to charging points, filling stations will be rapidly deploying the latest technology to optimise their retail sales.