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Merril Boulton: editor

Just back from an excellent PRA/ACS Forecourt Conference, which both informed and inspired in equal measure. The world is always changing, but there is something about the current pace of change and uncertainty across many aspects of life business, political, technological, environment that would be easy to become quite unsettled by, and is prompting much discussion. The fuel retailing industry in particular appears to be standing on the brink of radical change, and no one is quite sure what the future holds or more importantly, how close that radically changing future is, or even how radical it will be! So attending a gathering of relevant minds to consider all the possible options, opportunities and challenges is certainly time well spent.

And it's all quite mind-boggling, since much of it concerns emerging technology that is not quite established yet. I'm not just talking about the type of vehicles that might be rocking up onto your forecourt in the future, but all the changes going on in the retail sector, with sophisticated digital technology accommodating the way customers (generally young and tech savvy!) want to live their lives, including how they go about buying the things that sustain them. Matt Rich, BP's global digital transformation manager (who knew there was such a job title?) delivered an excellent presentation on "our changing world in forecourt retail". He encouraged delegates to consider how the status quo has and continues to be shaken up by technological giants such as Amazon. "What if Amazon was to get into fuel," he suggested (cue shudder from the audience). "Customers could buy direct via a subscription, and arrange to collect it from a forecourt. Just a thought..."

It puts worrying about providing electric charging facilities into perspective. And there again, even the lovely chap Tom Callow from Chargemaster sees the dawn of electric vehicles as a great opportunity for forecourts. "They will always take longer to 'refuel' than a petrol or diesel vehicle, so motorists will have longer to spend money in the forecourt shop." So the future is good!

PS: The FT Awards judges are out and about.


As ESSO and BP join Shell and Gulf in launching new loyalty programmes this year, are such schemes a key tool for businesses today?