The mechanics of dynamic fuel price changes

Dynamically updating the fuel price at a store requires having the correct technology in place and allowing access to the store’s network, keeping security in mind at all stages of this process.

At the center of any price update is the Point of Sale, aka POS, (Gilbarco Passport, Verifone Commander, NCR Radiant, Wayne Dresser Namos, etc…) which needs to be connected to the station’s pumps and price signs. While most stations have a connection between the POS and the pump, not all stations have a similar connection between the POS and the price signs. Most price sign vendors sell equipment to connect the POS to the price sign, typically in the form of a low power radio. Alternatively, in the construction of a new station, a cable can be run from the station to the sign.

Once connections to the sign and pumps have been established the POS will handle the changes to the price at the station. At this juncture, it’s worth explaining the sequence and timing of a price change cascading though a store. The sequence and timing of a price change is affected by a couple things: the direction of the price change and the number of people currently pumping gas. The convention among the various agencies that regulate the display of fuel prices is simple, the price on the pumps and the sign must be the same. The price on the pump cannot exceed that of the sign (otherwise it’s considered bait and switch).

To ensure the relevant regulations are being met the POS must abide by the following sequences:

  • If the price is going up, the POS will change the price on the sign first and only change the price on the pumps once the sign confirms it has enacted the price change.
  • If the price is going down, the POS will change the price on all the pumps and only update the price on the sign(s) once the price on all the pumps has gone down.

Timing of a price change is another matter altogether. The timing of a price change can vary wildly based on the amount of traffic at a given station since the individual pumps will not update the price while someone is pumping gas.  At a busy station, it can take upwards of 20 minutes for a price change to cascade through all the individual pumps. Since most of the sign companies use low powered radios it’s not uncommon for the sign update to take 30 – 45 seconds on its own.

With all that in place and the POS having the ability to update the price on both the sign(s) and the pump(s), now we can move on to how the price change gets to the POS from the internet. All the different brands of POS systems have built in systems set up to receive requests digitally for actions such as: reporting requests, updates to fuel prices, etc… Most of the POS vendors support some flavor of NACS XML, the convenience stores industry protocol for passing data about the store. With each different POS, you need to have a physical connection, via a RJ45 cable, to the POS’s internal network, typically via a router that is bundled with the POS. Once that connection has been established; the task at hand becomes being able to get a command down from the internet to the POS.

Like AAT Live the various dynamic price control vendors achieve the connection in slightly different ways, however we all need to have a computer connected to the store (either physically or via a VPN) of some sort. From there, a command to change prices is sent to the computer installed in the station, that computer uses its connection to the POS to send a price change command to the POS, which then handles the price updates as explained above.

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