As evolution continues at convenience stores, new integration needs are cropping up at the point of sale (POS).
“Some of the largest shifts in the last 18 months in c-stores have been the continual expansion of EMV in the forecourt, additional payment options, including a significant increase in digital accounts for ordering online, and stored payments for reoccurring and subscriptions payments,” noted Perry Kramer, managing partner with retail consulting firm Retail Consulting Partner.
What’s more, Kramer noted, many POS systems have migrated their architecture to a microservice-based technology, as retailers seek more integrations with their POS. C-stores today are looking to connect digital ordering, food ordering kiosks, loyalty, fuel dispensers and car washes as well as drive-through and self-checkout.
Integrating Kitchen Management
Lubbock, Texas-based Curby’s Express Market opened its first location in February and has two more stores set to open in the second half of the year.
“The intention is to scale the chain as big as we can, with seven to eight (stores) in the Lubbock, Texas area as well as in other operating areas,” said Tony Sparks, head of customer wow at Curby’s Express Market. “We call Curby’s a ‘new breed of convenience,’ and we do consider it the next generation in convenience retailing.”
As such, Curby’s is unique. It doesn’t offer fuel, but it provides an array of made-to-order food and beverages. The store also features a double-lane, full-service drive-through, with order-takers walking down the line taking orders via tablet. Inside, customers can opt for self-checkout or traditional checkout. Curby’s chose not to use foodservice kiosks because it wanted to maintain the personal interaction between customers and employees. Customers receive a ticket with a barcode after they order food, which they can scan along with other items at the POS.
But when it came to integrating all these different concepts through the POS, Curby’s struggled to find a system that checked all the boxes.
For Curby’s the holy grail would be an enterprise system with all the functionality of a true kitchen management system (KMS) that could also integrate the handheld tablets at the drive-through, while allowing the self-checkout to ring up foodservice and still handle traditional grocery and convenience promotional stacking.
“You would think that maybe there’s a platform out there that has all this in one enterprise system, but what we found is that there isn’t one,” Sparks said. “Unless you want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in development of your customized proprietary system for your chain, there is not an off-the-shelf network system.”
Sparks found that great kitchen management systems exist, and excellent grocery and convenience systems exist, but the restaurant side can’t manage large-scale promotional stacking. Meanwhile, the top grocery systems manage robust promotional tracking, but can’t handle kitchen management as seamlessly as a true KMS.
“This is where everyone gets hung up. How do you allow the customer to order food and beverage, and then let them use self-checkout without going through a lot of hoops?” he said.
The Curby’s team spent months speaking with multiple POS suppliers and connecting with retailers running similar programs.
Finally, Curby’s turned to NCR’s Radiant POS, which allowed it to implement its desired integrations using just one system.
“It does almost everything we want it to do,” he said. “If you want to alter an order on food and beverage, it’s really not made for that, but it gets us almost everything we need under one system.”
As Curby’s prepares to expand its footprint, it continues to seek solutions to improve QSR integration, but it may just have to wait for technology to catch up to retailer trends.
Sparks spoke with another c-store chain that solved the challenge of managing kitchen, convenience and a drive-through as a small operator by using two systems. While it would be more steps and more expense, Curby’s has considered switching to this method in the future to gain the benefits of a KMS. “For example, we would get Aloha for our kitchen management, which is an NCR product, then have a second screen right there and ring it up on our POS separately,” he said.
Troubleshooting as a Small Operator
Warwick, R.I.-based Neon Marketplace operates four locations and expects to have about 10 stores open by the end of the year.
“We chose NCR, and I believe that that is really one of the best solutions out there,” noted Peter Rasmussen, special consultant and advisor to the board of directors for Neon Marketplace.
In addition to foodservice and drive-through, Neon Marketplace is set to add self-checkout this summer. Currently, its foodservice customers order on a touchscreen order kiosk and receive a ticket, which they can take to the register to pay. Some chains would prefer to have customers pay for food at the touchscreen order kiosk, but Rasmussen noted there are pros and cons to either option.
“If somebody had to pay at the (food ordering) kiosk, then you would have guaranteed payment, which is good, but then, if they want to buy something else in the store, it might cause a customer to have to do two transactions,” he said.
Neon Marketplace is in the process of integrating its new mobile app, which will be launching later this year. “It integrates with the whole pricebook. I program my PDI pricebook that lifts right out into the app, which integrates into the POS system as well,” Rasmussen said. “You’ll be able to literally order the entire store, and then have it either be picked up or delivered via DoorDash, and that’s with just holding one master pricebook.”
No matter what POS solution a company chooses, POS integration can be more difficult for small operators.
Big chains can hire employees that become experts on the software and hardware, so if an issue arises, they can handle it in-house, while small retailers must depend on external resources to troubleshoot. For example, if credit goes down, getting the software provider, network provider and hardware provider all coordinated in solving the issue can be a challenge.
“Technology’s intimidating when you’re small and you don’t have a CIO and a big in-house team,” he said.
As evolution continues, Rasmussen, like Sparks, sees an opportunity for growth with the nimbleness and flexibility of POS software.
“Look at the restaurant industry using Toast or Square. These are solutions that are super cheap, super nimble. They integrate with third-party software, such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub, without having to write a custom API code,” he said. “I think it’s very fast evolving, and I hope that the solutions that also do gas really well can adapt some of the features that other POS systems have.”