Beacon technology, chatbots, frictionless checkout and augmented reality are among the top technology trends set to impact c-store retailers.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with leading global futurist and best-selling author Daniel Burrus, who recently released his seventh book “The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage.”
Burrus outlined the biggest technology trends set to disrupt the convenience store industry.
“You’ve got two choices: you’re either going to be the disruptor or the disrupted,” Burrus said. As technological advancements move increasingly fast, c-stores can’t wait on the sidelines if they expect to stay profitable, he warned.
The top technology trends c-stores should pay attention to in 2019 include beacon technology, chatbots, augmented reality and frictionless checkout.
Beacon technology is now here for c-stores to implement. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to send customers specials and messaging when they are in range of the c-store. Customers must have BLE enabled on their phones to receive deals. Beacon technology can also help devices talk to each other, so managers can be alerted, for example, when a freezer door is left ajar.
“Starwood Hotels, all of their hotel chains are using beacon technology to replace room keys with beacons,” Burrus pointed out.
Employees can remind customers they can get special deals if they download the c-store’s app and have BLE enabled when they enter the store. The beauty of beacon technology, Burrus said, is it takes the burden off of the customer and automatically gives them information, assistance and discounts. Burrus recommended that c-store retailers start using beacon technology today, train employees and teach customers to download the app and be in the practice of enabling BLE on their phones to save money at the store.
Burrus predicted the use of beacon technology will be widespread in the next five years.
Chatbots are another growing trend. Burrus expects that over the next year, the most innovative c-stores will put chatbots in key areas of the store, so when customers have questions on a price or in-stocks, the chatbot can provide the answer. It can also be used at the gas pump to respond to questions.
In five years, Burrus expects to see more prevelant use of chatbots at retail. He predicted c-store chains will be developing their own chatbot versions rather than building them through Amazon. He also expects chatbots will be used on the backend to assist employees.
Augmented reality apps already exist, and c-stores can capitalize on the trend now. Burrus uses an augmented reality app in the mountains that points out hiking trails, peak heights, restroom locations and so on.
“Imagine doing that in your store,” he said.
Augmented reality apps can help customers find items, prices or available discounts. In five years, expect to see augmented reality glasses. They won’t look like the Google glasses of yesteryear. They’ll look like regular glasses but will give customers information about their environments, Burrus said.
Innovative c-stores are already experimenting with frictionless checkout, which Burrus predicted will be ubiquitous in five years because it will lower labor costs and free up employees for customer service tasks, while increasing the speed of checkout.
“Start learning now,” Burrus recommended. “It’s not that complex. It’s not that difficult. And it’s not that expensive.”
As technology advancements continue to speed up, it’s important for c-stores to move beyond reacting.
“I want you to be anticipatory,” Burrus said. The key is to become a positive disruptor and pre-solve problems before they appear.
Erin Del Conte is the executive editor at Convenience Store Decisions. For more on this interview with Daniel Burrus, check out our recent podcast at cstoredecisions.com/2019/03/19/c-store-technology-oracle-anticipating-disruption-tech-trends-ahead-for-2019/