When Liz Concannon, Vice President of Corporate Sales for the ISO Petroleum Card Services, viewed the exhibition area of the September 2012 Pacific Oil Conference held in Reno, Nev., she saw an industry facing challenges.
The equipment manufacturers, terminal vendors and credit card service providers that filled the room gave the conference a feeling of prosperity, but Concannon believes tight margins and regulation hinder profits in the petroleum business, and changes in payment requirements will only exacerbate the difficulties.
"It is a tough market," she said in an interview following the show. "Petroleum is a tough nut to crack. Owning a gas station is not like owning a dry cleaner or an ice cream store. There are mandates, regulation, compliance and EPA issues attached to owning a gas station."
There are approximately 160,000 gas stations in the United States (including alternative fueling operations such as those selling biodiesel). Concannon, who is a new member of the Petroleum Equipment Institute board, estimated that anywhere from 35 to 39 percent of those stations are independent operators who get by making very small margins on their sales.
Concannon's company attends approximately 32 tradeshows a year (she attends one a month) just to keep up with the rapid changes in the industry. She said changes in payment card acceptance are among the most difficult challenges independent gas stations face.
Independent station owners are just adjusting to what she calls the "debacle" of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) mandate. Concannon estimated only 25 percent of independent gas station owners have become PCI-compliant so far. Now operators are being asked to implement the Europay/MasterCard/Visa (EMV) standard for integrated circuit (chip) cards at their pumps.
"These operators are being asked to spend thousands of dollars on compliance when they are making only two cents per gallon," she said. "There is no simple solution for implementing EMV at an average independent gas station that has 8 pumps and pay-at-the-pump transactions."
Multiply the average 8 pumps per gas station by 160,000 U.S. stations and the need for new EMV compliant hardware becomes obvious. Concannon said terminal manufacturers may not be able to keep up with the demand. "When the PCI mandates came out, and stations needed to put key pads outside, the manufacturers couldn't make enough PIN pads to keep up with the need," she noted.
Credit card companies intend to bring about the transition to EMV by shifting liability for card present fraud to merchants and operators whose payment terminals are not EMV-compliant by the card companies' deadline. For the petroleum industry that deadline will arrive in 2017.
Concannon doesn't see the liability shift as a significant threat to petroleum operators who, she believes, will be reluctant to invest in the new technology. "Everybody knows all you have to do to get a gas charge removed from your bill is dispute the outside transaction," she said. "Because the customers don't sign, the operator can't prove they were there. The operators still have 100 percent liability for that chargeback. EMV will not eliminate chargebacks."
Since EMV technology will be expensive to implement and the liability threat is not a change for operators, Concannon feels the EMV mandate and concurrent liability shift will make some operators stop pay-at-the-pump service and require people to go inside to pay where a signature or PIN can be required. She said the solution is a PIN-based card that protects both the customer and the operator from fraud.
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