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In the business world, innovation can have many meanings — new insights, cost-saving designs and visionary ideas. But for U.S. consumers today, innovation means basically one thing: convenience.
In a recent GfK Roper Reports study, almost eight in 10 people (78 percent) said innovation is about finding faster ways of doing things; slightly less felt it was about finding “easier” ways. All other possible answers scored at least 30 percentage points behind.
U.S. consumers seem to have an insatiable desire for cutting corners and they expect the companies they do business with to rise to the occasion.
As someone focused on the shopping, retail and consumer packaged goods sectors — and as a consumer myself — I see a number of key factors driving this urge for convenience.
Time: A U.S. Labor Department study found working parents with children have about an hour a day for meal preparation and consumption — and that includes breakfast and dinner. It is no wonder that people are constantly searching for convenient meal options.
Overwhelmed: There are more food choices than ever, and confusion around what is healthiest has never been greater.
Expectations: High-speed Internet connections — at home and on the road — have forever changed consumer expectations. Their “need for speed” has been transferred to the brick-and-mortar world, raising the bar for service and reducing the amount of time customers are willing to spend in a given store.
So, how can brick-and-mortar convenience retailers respond to these needs and stay ahead of the low-patience curve? The good news is that your location is probably conveniently located already — a big plus. But beyond simply being there, what do you have to do to win with today’s harried, impatient consumers?
Here are the top messages that your customers would probably give you if they could.
"DON'T WASTE MY TIME"
If it involves standing in line or waiting, it is ripe for innovation. Self-checkout is long overdue for the convenience store, as are self-serve lottery tickets. Both can delight shoppers, decrease time in-store and reduce walkout rates.
Making people use a credit card twice to pay at the pump and then again in the store is another barrier to speed and satisfaction. More conducive would be facilitating ordering and paying for prepared foods ahead of time and picking them up at a dedicated counter. (Subway has already implemented this in select locations.) Even better, bring the order to them at the pump when their phone hits your Wi-Fi network.
“IT'S MY APP, NOT YOURS"
Consumers tell us that too many shopping apps neglect how they really want to shop, focusing instead on the retailer’s or manufacturer’s agenda. For a convenience retailer, that means following three key mantras to building satisfaction and a higher share of wallet:
- Know me: Remember not only what they purchase, but where, so you can guide them to the closest store and alert them to promotions only on products they buy.
- Listen to me: Solicit and act upon their feedback. If you don’t give social media mavens an outlet for feedback, they will create one. It can be as simple as a “How did we do?” text after their purchase or an invitation to a quick mobile survey.
- Reward me: Shoppers’ expectations of loyalty programs continue to escalate beyond the manufacturer-funded promotions they get now. Cash discounts for frequent visits, checking in on social media, submitting a Yelp review or just trying a new product all can be managed to drive trips, share of wallet and unpaid media visibility.
“GET ME TO THE GOOD STUFF FAST"
Specialty grocers like Whole Foods have responded to lower traffic and slowing center-store sales by creating highly curated sections, offering fewer and hopefully better choices that enable a faster, less confusing shopping trip.
For the convenience operator, this may mean optimizing your coolers and dry goods on a store-by-store basis to maximize sales to the core customers of that location. It also means shifting the focus of manufacturer assortment and promotional analytics from category sales to total store sales and traffic. That’s a sea-change that will require close cooperation and data sharing between manufacturers and operators in order to succeed.
Above all, shoppers are constantly telling us that their desires for ease and speed do not exclude their other needs. They want easier and better fulfillment of what they need and want to do for themselves and their families. While many have less disposable income, they are not willing to sacrifice other key needs to save money. They want and expect it all and see no reason why they can’t have it. Can you deliver?
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.