Guest Column | April 26, 2021

Can C-Stores Afford IT Downtime?

By Nick East, Zynstra, an NCR Company

Clock money finance

A closer look at how convenience stores can prevent IT downtime to improve the customer experience.

When customers enter a convenience store, they’re often looking to purchase the items they need quickly before moving on to their next destination. However, if the retailer is experiencing unplanned IT downtime, not only is this sale in jeopardy, but the shopper may never come back to the store or fuel pump again. While those minutes, hours, or days of IT downtime feel like the worst part, the ramifications extend far beyond those moments, as downtime of a store’s IT environment can lead to lost customers and revenue.

This is especially poignant in today’s reality as consumers reconsider the potential of traveling once they have received their COVID vaccinations. For example, a recent survey from NACS highlights that over half of the c-store retailers (52%) expect “summer travel and commuting patterns will be close to pre-pandemic levels.”

However, if the c-store retailer is not technologically prepared to manage new IT implementations and increased foot traffic, a small blip in the system can have a large trickle-down effect. Many of today’s c-stores have had to quickly integrate new ‘touchless’ in-store technology, ranging from self-checkout to Buy Online Pick up at Curbside (BOPAC) while facing barriers from legacy technology built up over time. The result has often been ‘workarounds’ with the incumbent technology stack and therein lies the problem.

To paint a bigger picture of the true cost of IT downtime, we recently commissioned a third-party survey through Censuswide to poll 100 U.S. IT managers and store operations managers from large convenience and convenience fuel retail (CFR) stores to better analyze the true repercussions of IT downtime. The survey identified that 98% of respondents interviewed have had to deal with store system failure, demonstrating how prevalent this issue is across the industry.  

From point of sale (POS) failure to glitches in the store controller, payment controller, fuel controller, and self-checkout systems, the complex store IT infrastructure, common in many c-store retail operations, makes implementation delivery and management of software difficult on multiple types of devices and a major operational challenge.

The Top 3 Consequences Of IT Downtime

  1. Lost Revenue
    Store system failure not only impacts the c-store’s customer experience but also affects the bottom line. When asked about the amount of lost revenue c-stores can attribute to store system failures, survey respondents answered that on average they lose up to $855 per hour. In terms of the time it takes to reboot one of these store systems, on average it can take up to 5.43 hours, resulting in $4,643 lost revenue per day. With 65% of respondents identifying this kind of reboot occurs once a month across their store estate, CFRs are looking at an average annual revenue loss of up to $55,712 for just one system going down in one of their stores.
  1. The Reboot Butterfly Effect
    With an average of 2-3 lanes per convenience store and 41% of respondents’ saying at least one component of their technology stack operates as a single point of failure, the impact of even one component going down is a loss of selling capacity. When one device fails, respondents identified they have to repair or replace the device as soon as possible because there is no on-site redundancy.

    This consequence permeates throughout all of the c-stores IT touchpoints, with an average of 65% of respondents saying that one store system has to be rebooted at least once a month, leading to a disruption in operations. Self-checkout and fuel controller are the biggest culprits across all store sizes and POS particularly for stores with 100 sites or more.
  1. Replacing Components
    Beyond the pain of rebooting IT touchpoints, coping with business disruptions, and lost revenue, the ultimate consequence of IT downtime is the dreaded task of replacing components due to failure from security breaches, hardware failure, incompatibility with Windows updates, and reported software failure. As these IT replacements get underway, 47% of respondents highlighted that a store technician has to be sent to the physical store 50% or more of the time to resolve store system failure, adding yet another expense to the c-stores bottom line.

Solving For IT Downtime

While the consequences of downtime can have timely and costly repercussions, c-stores understand that IT investment can help resolve these issues. When asked where they believe IT can make the biggest difference in reducing downtime across their store ecosystem, 33% of respondents believe more automation of systems will be the key to resolving these issues. The majority of c-store technology is device-based, meaning there’s a software application and operating system (OS) installed on every individual terminal or touchpoint throughout the store. Any time an update is needed, or a new store system is added, an entirely new installation of both the application and OS is required on each device. This is expensive and unsuitable for today’s disruptive environment, where speed to market is critical and travel is more restricted.

Transitioning to a software-defined store strategy (SDS) by virtualizing retail store systems reduces the cost associated with managing, monitoring, and maintaining store systems, providing c-stores with much greater resilience and control. A software-defined store strategy can specifically solve the most critical downtime pain points within a c-store’s IT ecosystem, including the payment controller, fuel controller, POS, store controller, and self-checkout among other touchpoints.

C-store retailers require continuous innovation and IT resiliency to evolve with consumer demands and deliver on the promise of convenience and safety. Based on IT and store operations manager insights, c-stores must find a way to evolve their cost structure and minimize touchpoint failure through technology, to make the customer experience and store operations more seamless. Virtualizing applications in the store makes this possible with automation high on the agenda.

About The Author

Nick East is CEO and Co-Founder of Zynstra, an NCR Company.