The future is here and wow, did it get here fast! COVID has accelerated what was already a changing landscape for convenience store operators and customers – Ddigital ordering, third party delivery, more fresh food options, less fuel consumption, and the list goes on.
Convenience must be put back into convenience stores because it is the number one expectation of consumers. These changes are here to stay and will continue to shape the industry for years to come.
As convenience store operators and customers begin to look to the future and wonder what the post-COVID customer experience will look like, the operational and customer experience landscape has certainly changed. The rise of work-from-home, home delivery, and order-to-order models, along with increased expectations for fresh food and better sanitation, are driving convenience store operators to re-evaluate on-the-shelf service techniques. customer base. Convenience store operators can use this information to help mitigate the ever-changing retail landscape.
A major change facing convenience stores is the decline in fuel-related profits. According to the NACS State of the industry report, prepared foods are the top gross profit driver for convenience stores, as foodservice generated 34.5% of in-store gross profit dollar sales in 2020. This trend continues to rise, while related profits to fuel are lagging behind.
Fresh food to replace falling fuel income
This decline in fuel-related profits is due, in part, to a decrease in travel. The future will see more plug-in and hybrid cars, but the challenge of replacing lost revenue is already here.
Creating an iconic fresh food that consumers are drawn to offers great opportunities for delivery and takeout customers who won’t hesitate to increase the size of their basket. Higher margin items will be added to orders for delivery convenience, initiated by the desire to have that signature fresh food.
As customers spend more time onsite, convenience stores will need to make operational changes to improve the overall customer experience. Customers are no longer satisfied with take-out fast food options. Convenience stores need to offer freshly prepared food selections, in addition to a wide range of convenience items to create a competitive advantage and expand customer reach.
This increased demand for healthy, plant-based and international flavor options will also require a larger footprint and dedicated resources. Commissioners and ghost kitchens will become the norm. New store designs with on-site dining options will emerge to support the customer experience. Bright, clean and updated store exteriors with outdoor seating options and increased curb appeal will also attract customers and encourage them to spend more time there.
This new expectation of fresh food options prepared on-premises also provides convenience stores with an opportunity to create a positive and unique brand identity through the types of food available to customers. Customers make connections with food. Unique, high-quality foods can make a lasting impression on consumers, which can help build customer loyalty.
To further leverage this loyal customer base, convenience stores should consider offering delivery services. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an influx of businesses offering delivery services, and the idea that delivery can only be used by restaurants is a thing of the past.
The introduction of delivery services will not only open up a new revenue stream for store brands, but it will also expand the store’s customer base by providing access to the foods their customers have come to know and love, whether on the premises. or offsite. The basket size will increase due to convenience and the fact that a fee is already paid for delivery.
Access to mobile ordering and touchless technology will also serve as a catalyst for future convenience store growth, although reorienting operations towards these changes will not be easy.
To successfully integrate mobile ordering into day-to-day operational processes, store operators will need to create a drive-thru or designated pick-up point. Managing these new processes will require additional training and staffing requirements.
The customer experience will continue to play an increasingly important role in the future of convenience stores. Extended time on site and the introduction of new and improved operational practices means new customer interactions and varied touch points that staff may not be used to providing.
Partnering with a third-party assessment program can help store operators assess customer experiences such as wait times, in-store interactions, brand standards, and on-site cleanliness, while also assessing satisfaction offsite customer with delivery ratings and industry benchmarking.
These programs also help ensure seamless execution of food safety and operational excellence standards by all employees and across multi-site stores. Access to this unbiased feedback will help mitigate risk, increase customer traffic and drive sales growth, creating peace of mind for store owners and a consistent brand experience for new customers and loyal customers.
Alex Myrick is Vice President of Steritech. He currently leads its national sales team, helping multi-site businesses deliver their ideal brand experience through assessment and consulting solutions that accelerate growth, drive operational consistency and mitigate risk. Myrick is a 32-year restaurant and hospitality veteran who has worked as a franchisor, franchisee, independent owner, and director of sales and marketing.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience store news.