Consumers love convenience. It might explain why more and more convenience stores are popping up. While the number of grocery stores and drug stores drops, convenience stores, or c-stores, continue to climb, reaching a record 154,958 stores as of the beginning of 2018, according to NACS.
While there are more c-stores on neighborhood corners, the industry as a whole is evolving.
Typically known for fast transactions from gas, cigarettes, and junk food, c-store owners are now focusing less on mass transactions of typical items and more on customer engagement. By engaging customers, c-stores can capitalize on loyal, repeat business that drives both customer satisfaction and revenue.
How can c-stores evolve from faceless transactions to more engaging customer experiences? Here are five things c-store owners can do to make customer engagement a priority:
1. Offer fresh food fast, not fast food
With revenue from gas and tobacco falling, c-store owners are searching for a more sustainable money stream, and they’re finding it in food service. About 22% of revenue growth for c-stores came from foodservice in 2017, according to NACS.
The rolling rack of questionable hot dogs and rubbery pretzels won’t do. Customers want fresh food fast, and more c-stores are meeting their demands.
Dash In is reinventing its 50 stores throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware to accommodate more fresh food. The epicenters of its new stores have made-to-order food stations where breakfast, artesian sandwiches, wraps, and salads are prepared in front of the customer.
WaWa, a chain of about 750 c-stores along the east coast, is also focusing on made-to-order foods. Its newest stores offer touch-screen ordering and restaurant-like seating. The fan-favorite hoagies and breakfast Sizzli are often piled high with fresh veggies, something most c-stores aren’t known for.
C-stores are reaping the rewards of healthier choices. Research shows healthier food options are driving revenue. Deli sales alone, for example, elevated revenues by $1.2 billion industry-wide in 2016.
A new breed of convenience stores is emerging, too. C-stores that sell only healthy, high-end products are changing the perception of your typical gas station market. The Goods Market in Los Angeles, for example, sells “a lot of items you’d typically find at 7-Eleven, but it’s all better-for-you type of ingredients,” according to its owner.
Overall, consumers want healthier food choices and the c-stores that meet this demand are rewarded with customers that visit more often and spend more. The cornerstones of customer loyalty that drive increases in revenue and ROI for your business.
2. Invest in the local community
Customers don’t spend a lot of time in convenience stores. In fact, the average customer only spends three to four minutes inside. There’s an actual breakdown of time spent when visiting a c-store. Here’s how it plays out:
- Walks from car to store: 35 seconds
- Browses in-store: 71 seconds
- Waits in line: 42 seconds
- Pays: 22 seconds
- Returns to car: 44 seconds
It’s up to the c-store to give customers a reason to stay – a reason to shop.
In an attempt to cater to more local customers, Dash In focuses its attention on more homegrown products.
The c-store offers foods from local farmers and hosts eight taps with native beers and wines. Customers can buy and refill growlers with their hometown favorites.
A BP gas station in Kansas City partnered with a local nonprofit to source fresh produce for its store. A small cooler houses everything from lemons to asparagus, and by 5 pm, everything is gone.
Both Dash In and BP have given its customers a reason to visit and spend time in their store, all while investing in the local community.
3. Implement technology that delivers a better experience
Technology is altering the consumer experience across all channels, and that’s true of convenience stores too. From touchscreen ordering like Wawa has implemented for its food service to contactless payments, customers expect these “conveniences” inside c-stores.
By the end of 2018, Visa estimates 50% of face-to-face transactions will be contactless. In other words, consumers will wave their phone in front of a scanner or pay through a mobile app. C-stores that don’t adopt mobile-savvy payments won’t deliver the digital experience customers now demand.
Mobile payments have already swept across the industry, and experts say digital prices tags are next. In the next five years, digital price tags on shelves will change prices in real time, according to Nielsen.
When the supply of bananas, for example, is about to go bad, prices will adjust to move the product faster and eliminate waste.
Any digital advancement that can improve a customer’s in-store experience is a step toward better customer engagement.
4. Get to know your customers across multiple locations
Evolving c-stores are making strides to know their customers. By implementing a customer engagement program that’s driven by data, c-store owners can do just that.
With a customer engagement program that captures data from every purchase, c-store owners can identify their best customers and send personalized messages and offers that compel customers to return again and again driving incremental revenue for the business.
Data capture will show different segments of customers that owners can cater to. For example, you might have a group of business travelers that are on the road weekly, along with a group of last-minute grocery buyers who stop in daily to grab essentials.
By identifying these customers and what they buy, you can send relevant promotions. The travelers receive a promotion for $1 off any ready-made lunch while the grocery-getters receive a push notification for a BOGO gallon of milk.
This kind of personalization gives c-stores the ability to know their customers on a deeper level, and see how their products fit into customers’ lifestyle.
5. Collect feedback and respond personally
When you’re just focused on moving customers in an out, getting feedback isn’t a necessity. Travelers will come and go, and if one has a not-so-great-experience, there’s always another traveler to replace him or her.
However, if customer engagement is a priority, customer feedback is a priority. You need to know what customers think and how you can improve.
You need a way to collect feedback. Ideally, you’d be able to collect feedback after a transaction, gauge a customer’s satisfaction with a quick one-question survey on their phone. If your store gets a poor rating, a follow-up question asks why.
Using this kind of mobile-savvy feedback, you can make storewide decisions that will improve customer experiences and increase repeat business.
The c-store industry is evolving, and it’s important to make the necessary changes to remain relevant. Customers are responding to innovative measures that put their needs first. From fresh foods and locally sourced vegetables to mobile payments and personalized loyalty programs, today’s convenience store is more than a place to fuel up.
Today’s convenience store is all about customer engagement, not faceless transactions.