For several years, Rutter’s convenience stores communicated with fuel customers using speakers at the pumps that broadcast audio messages urging drivers to come inside after their fill up and check out the store’s offerings. But times are changing, and so is Rutter’s.
This summer, the chain began upgrading that advertising effort by installing full-color NCR optic monitors at the fuel pumps, which will permit Rutter’s 76 locations to promote products with both audio and video. The update was 95% finished at press time and should be completed early next year. Fuel pumps at all-new stores will feature the optic monitors as well.
In addition, Rutter’s will add contactless payment technology at the pumps, with rollout complete by the end of January, according to Chris Hartman, director of fuels, forecourt and advertising for the York, Pa.-based chain.
“You’ll be able to pay with your mobile phone, using technology such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay,” said Hartman. “You just wave your phone, and it processes your payment with no physical card required.”
NCR provides Rutter’s with its point-of-sale (POS) system and will make the technology updates to the pumps.
More Changes Coming
In Lawrence, Kan., Scott Zaremba, president of Zarco USA, sells Phillips 66-branded fuel at one of his two c-stores. To pay quickly and conveniently, customers simply download the My Phillips 66 app.
“When they pull up, they don’t have to put a card in the pump,” said Zaremba. “They select the number of the pump they want to use, and the app sends them an encrypted four-digit code. They punch in the code and start fueling.”
The system is secure because personal credit card data never goes into the pump, he said, which is good news for consumers.
According to a recent online survey of 1,270 adults by YouGov and ACI Worldwide, a provider of banking solutions, 62% of U.S. adults are concerned about the security of their financial data when paying at fuel pumps and c-stores.
“It’s a walletless payment system,” Zaremba said. “You don’t have to have your wallet with you to you to buy food inside, or fuel or a car wash at the pump; it’s all done without ever swiping a credit card. My Phillips 66 mobile app is one of the coolest technical advances I’ve seen. It’s one of the reasons I decided to brand Phillips 66.”
Sign of the Times
Rutter’s management was won over by LED lighting a decade ago when the company updated its forecourts and canopies. In addition to the clean, bright look LED provides, “there are savings in utilities, as well as maintenance costs, because the bulbs last much longer,” said Hartman.
Along with color monitors and contactless payment, Rutter’s has added large electronic message boards with LED lights to the outside of new and remodeled stores, allowing them to communicate with passing drivers and pedestrians on the street.
“These are huge message centers or electronic billboards on our property,” Hartman said. “We can show photos and let people know what we have, and we can update the message whenever we want.”
Whether the signs are promoting fresh food or advertising specials, colorful graphics and animation support the missive.
“The message board says that we have beer, so now customers can come inside and see our beer caves, which we’re proud of,” Hartman said. “I know people notice the signs.”
While the electric signs and new pump technology were big investments in the stores’ exteriors, “we feel it helps us let customers know about our diverse offerings,” he said.
OnCue, with 75 locations in Oklahoma; QuickChek, with 153 stores in New Jersey and New York; Salt Lake City-based Maverik, with more than 300 locations across 11 western states; and Spinx, which operates more than 80 c-stores in South Carolina, are among c-store chains that have installed electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at some locations. In May, Chevron announced it would provide more than a dozen EVgo fast chargers — ranging from 50 kW to 100 kW capacity — at five Chevron stations in California.
As of May 2019, there were more than 68,800 Level 2 (adds 10-20 miles of range per charging hour) and DC (direct current) fast charging units (adds 60-80 miles of range per 20 minutes of charging) throughout the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy. More than one-third of EV charging units are in California.
Currently, the number of public U.S. charging stations is a “chicken and egg” situation. Without an adequate number of accessible chargers, consumers hesitate to invest in EVs. But if more people don’t buy EVs, businesses won’t install chargers.
A fast and dependable recharging network that allows for quick recharging is mandatory for the expansion of the nation’s e-vehicle market, according to the Fuels Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to the issues surrounding vehicles and the fuels markets. Even in California, where plans call for 26,000-plus new charging stations by 2025, the state may come up more than 41,500 chargers short based on current expectations, reports the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit scientific research organization.
The c-store forecourt is the first impression customers get of any store. A clean, bright, inviting forecourt tells customers they’ve come to a safe, friendly place. Forecourt technology helps convey that message.
Rutter’s forecourt updates indicate what the chain is working toward, including efforts to “promote what we have inside and be in the forefront of the technical race in the industry,” Hartman said. “Our goal is to always be No. 1 in what we try to do. If we’re not ahead, we’re in the process of getting there.”