Understanding Blockchain – CStore Decisions

Blockchain is a system used to track information, and it’s set to transform retail.

Blockchain has become a hot topic. But what exactly is it, how does it work, and how can c-stores begin implementing it successfully?

On a recent CStore Decisions Live podcast, I spoke with Jeremie Myhren, chief information officer for Rockford, Ill.-based Road Ranger convenience stores, and the chairman of the Young Executives Organization (YEO), to learn the answers. 

Blockchain was invented in 2008 in response to the financial crisis, Myhren explained. Blockchains can be built and stored using computer networks, most commonly the internet and cloud service providers, depending on the application.

 “Blockchain is like a set of glass boxes with contents everyone can see, verify and cannot change. Everyone knows where the boxes are and what they contain. Transparency and security are at the heart of this system,” he said.

 But, he added, it’s important to understand that blockchain isn’t a device, or a machine, and it’s not a cryptocurrency. 

“It is a system, a method to keep track of information that prioritizes trust, transparency and an inability to be manipulated,” Myhren said. “With that said, cryptocurrencies — like bitcoin and every other cryptocurrency out there — work on a blockchain platform.”

Jeremie Myhren, chief information officer for Road Ranger

But the applications for blockchain go far beyond just currency. 

“Many companies and industries will rely on blockchain to create safe houses for sensitive data and information for which there’s no room for manipulation,” Myhren said. 

Payments, inventory management, supply chain management, food safety, contracts, invoicing and billing, loyalty programs and customer data management are just a few of the ways convenience stores can use blockchain.   

And it’s already in use now. 

“Walmart pioneered the use of blockchain in the food supply chain to cut down on waste, improve tracking and to provide transparency into contamination,” Myhren said. “Starbucks is testing blockchain with a pilot program in Colombia, Costa Rica and Rwanda that is allowing them to track their coffee from field to cup.”  

“The food-related blockchain applications are very much not a pipe dream at this point, and adoption rapidly continues. This is estimated to be a $20 billion market by 2026,” he said.    

Myhren noted that it’s estimated that in the supply chain application alone, a lack of visibility is costing retailers worldwide $300 billion in U.S. dollars a year. 

“There are real, bottom line and top line efficiencies and opportunities in the various applications of this emerging technology,” he said. “As our space continues to be hyper competitive, and disruptors and changes in fueling and consumption technology that are now just being accelerated by the pandemic threaten our future relevance and profitability, it is more important than ever that we as an industry pay close attention to the technologies that are transforming retail and ensure we are not late entrants.”

If all this has you wanting to learn more about blockchain, check out the podcast at CStoreDecisions.com/2020/08/21/podcast-what-is-blockchain/.