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09/09/2022

Why IoT devices are key to the modern convenience store experience

Now that 5G availability appears to be gaining momentum in Canada, expect new innovative practices in the c-gas channel.

While much of the world has been able to leverage the power of 5G-enabled technologies like IoT-connected devices, most Canadian businesses have been unable to due to a lack of 5G network availability.

The applications of these technologies are far-ranging, but the retail industry has been at the forefront of IoT innovations globally. In the retail industry, convenience stores and gas stations have been the biggest drivers of new innovative practices, with Amazon’s chain of convenience stores, Amazon Go, being among the first to implement cashier-less checkout processes in the U.S.

Now that 5G availability appears to be gaining momentum in Canada - as Canada’s top three telecom providers have reported increases of 5G network availability ranging between 7.7% and 17.4% between Q2 2021 and Q1 2022 - we are due to see many new innovative practices coming to convenience stores in Canada soon.

As convenience stores work to live up to their title and provide customers with more convenient shopping options wherever possible, let’s take a closer look at some of the innovative use cases that will be made possible in stores, at the gas pump and along the entire supply chain.


In-store IoT innovations

As more IoT-connected devices are implemented in stores, we will soon see them used to increase efficiency in a range of operations, including a few notable examples like monitoring the cleanliness of bathroom facilities.

Stock monitoring: With a range of sensors, RFID tags and smart cameras, retailers can create “smart shelves” that monitor inventory in real-time and proactively notify them of any overstocking or product shortages, which can play a key role in shortcutting any supply chain issues.

Facility management: By using wireless IoT sensors, retailers can monitor the various factors that influence facility management processes, such as using foot traffic numbers to pinpoint bottlenecks within the store layout, identifying areas most in need of cleaning or disinfecting and ensuring optimal staffing levels at all times.

Cashier-less checkout: The concept of creating cashier-less checkouts by using IoT sensors to register any items a customer takes off the shelf and automatically charging them as they leave the store has grown in popularity around the world in recent years, with 77% of consumers saying it would be a deciding factor when choosing a retailer.

The future of fuel retail

No area of convenience store operations have been affected more dramatically in recent years than fuel retail, with self-serve pumps becoming commonplace and electric vehicles set to reduce the need for fuel overall.  That pace of change in fuel retail isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and IoT-connected devices will be front and centre.

Fuel inventory management: Inventory management is key in any retail store, but it is especially vital in fuel retail, where retailers can face financial penalties from the fuel supplier for not accurately predicting fuel sales, as delivery trucks may be left with excess fuel upon delivery. Fuel retailers who can leverage IoT-based solutions to monitor fuel inventory can rely on automatic prompts once fuel reaches a minimum level and set up systems to place fuel orders automatically, which prevents fuel shortages and unnecessary fuel orders.

Predictive equipment maintenance: Convenience stores and gas stations often employ a large suite of equipment ranging from fuel pumps to POS systems and more mechanically driven technologies like car washes. When that equipment has to go offline for maintenance or repair, this causes major issues for their operators. With IoT sensors capable of monitoring the equipment and leveraging data from those feeds to predict when maintenance should be done proactively - for example replacing filters in fuel pumps before they begin to affect the dispensing speed - convenience store and gas station operators can drastically minimize operational delays and inefficiencies resulting from equipment failures.

Supply chain visibility

Supply chain issues continue to be among the biggest contributing factors to the efficiency of retail industry operations, and convenience stores are no exception during this crisis.

With a range of IoT-connected devices available that can be implemented into key points of the supply chain, in tandem with the real-time inventory tracking capabilities that can be enabled with IoT, convenience store operators have an opportunity to increase end-to-end visibility into their supply chain, which allows them to better prepare for any shipment delays or other supply chain disruptions.

Planning for the future of IoT in Canada

As 5G networks become more readily available in Canada, convenience store and gas station operators need to plan for how they will implement incoming IoT technologies to build more efficient processes and create a new customer experience.

This will require a well-planned strategy and mobility device management capabilities needed to monitor, diagnose and repair the range of mobile devices needed to move forward. The time is now to begin plotting a roadmap to implementing IoT.


 

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Shash Anand SOTI headshot

About the author: Shash Anand, is vice-president of product strategy, SOTI, which offers and integrated suite of mobility and IoT solutions for businesses.