Kwik Chek Food Stores' new technology for updating gas prices at the pump also pushes those price changes to motorists using its mobile payment app, a feature that gets customers engaged with the retailer long before they pull up to the pump.

The convenience store chain, which operates in Texas and Oklahoma, offers an app that lets customers reserve a pump, link a payment card and pay for fuel after filling up. In this way, Kwik Chek is giving consumers a capability previously reserved for businesses; WEX, for example, offers a companion app to its fleet cards to enable drivers to find the best gas prices on their route. 

Kwik Chek is working with P97 Networks and PriceAdvantage to deploy its app, packing in various features that address the entirety of a consumer's visit to a Kwik Chek location.

"The store 'knows' who you are and can tie that with offers for Coke, etc. and that offer is automatically calculated in your price when you buy a soft drink," said Charlie Mohrmann, a vice president at P97 Networks, which sells PetroZone, a platform that uses Microsoft's point of sale technology to enable digital commerce services for fuel retailers.

The mobile app is a byproduct of a bigger project that addresses the convenience store chain's ability to comply with regulations surrounding the changing of fuel prices. The technology helps Kwik Chek's staff determine fuel prices for any given time and location, and then push new prices to the PetroZone point of sale system, gas pumps and price signs. The updated prices also go out to its mobile app.

Changing these prices manually can take company staff out of pocket for most of the day, as well as expose the chain to angry consumers and potential legal risks, Mohrmann said. Laws governing discrepancies between posted gas prices and the actual price charged at the pump vary from state to state, but there are potential disclosure and truth in advertising violations depending on the jurisdiction.

"The displayed price has to be updated in real time before you can change the price at the pump so you are not misleading consumers," Mohrmann said.

Kwik Chek, which would not provide an executive for an interview, is in the midst of deploying the PetroZone Mobile Commerce Platform along with the PetroZone Retail Fuels Module at all of its sites. PetroZone Retail Fuels is a cloud-based point of sale system that connects to the retailer's back office.

The technology will enable a two-way data flow to help the chain set prices quickly by considering factors such as nearby competition, traffic flow and transaction volume, rather than having local staff determine prices or communicate changes via fax, said Allison Wroe, director of marketing for price advantage.

"The chain's headquarters can see what all of their stores prices are, the margins and performance, and push new prices back the point of sale," Wroe said.

Gas stations have been experimenting with mobile payments for several years; many are participants in the Merchant Customer Exchange, a mobile wallet project backed by major retailers. ExxonMobil, in promoting its own SpeedPass+ app, even took down warning signs that cautioned against mobile phone use at the pump (though many worry that wireless phones can cause fires at gas stations, the FCC has found no evidence of this).

There are other issues that have slowed adoption of new payment technology at gas stations, such as the complexity of the pump infrastructure. And some may wonder if mobile payment apps make sense for motorists, considering the dangers of operating an app while en route to the gas station.

"I find it hard for drivers to do the pre authorization until they come to a stop at the gas station," said Adam Silverman, a principal analyst for Forrester Research. "So maybe this works if there is a long line, but hopefully there is no line…and I don't think there will be any material time savings there. You also need everyone on the system in order to drive scale and as we know with mobile apps it's hard to gain mass appeal."

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