Discussions and debates around the demise of brick-and-mortar stores are nothing new. Sure, the focus of the conversation has changed, but at the heart of it is how the customer’s convenience drives and influences the lifespan of store concepts, like convenience retail.
I was recently asked, “Is convenience dying yet?” and I firmly believe it is not. In fact, I say it is repositioning itself for future growth based on three key reasons.
Firstly, we are creatures of habit, and our need states dictate how we form those habits. Whether it’s stopping to get a cup of coffee during the work commute or getting a favorite sub while gassing up, we form a ritual — consciously or subconsciously — to address that need, and then repeat it time and time again. Factor in new product offerings, product placement and packaging, and the consumer’s habit also forges a conduit for customer loyalty, increased business, and niche marketing and sales strategies.
Secondly, food offerings are expanding and continuing to blur the lines between grocery, quick-serve restaurants (QSRs), and convenience stores. Pre-cooked meals are taking up real estate in the deli grab-and-go case and seating areas are being added to grocery stores. While every c-store doesn’t have to follow this trend for success, it will be very difficult to remain relevant and have a competitive advantage without some sort of response or an alternative. You simply can’t ignore it and continue with business as usual.
Beyond bolstering food selections, gas stations that offer electric vehicle charging stations also present something experiential for a targeted demographic that can become a habitual and loyal customer base. Not only is it growing the sector, but it’s also evolving the customer journey at a pace that marries technology with changing personas.
Thirdly, you can’t talk about the convenience store without talking about, well, convenience. Let’s face it, in a pre- and post-pandemic era, convenience is king. Simplification is an even greater need state now, and the convenience market is better equipped to continue doing what it does best.
C-stores have historically been early adopters of retail initiatives and trends, evidenced with bitcoin digital currency and loyalty programs. In fact, about three years ago, researchers noted half of all shoppers would take advantage of loyalty programs. While that number has undoubtedly increased, it serves as a reminder that convenient services, like online shopping, food delivery and perks for purchase, are redefining the levels of convenience.
So, I say convenience is not dying. We will need to engage technology to overcome labor shortages, and artificial intelligence to balance supply chain and storage space. There will be continued adoption of frictionless checkout, gasless gas stations, and acceptance of cryptocurrency. There will also be a place for amazing apps, online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
And even with the technological advancements, things like customer service and clean facilities will still be essential to the c-store experience. The best is yet to come, and I’m confident the market will be more than ready for the challenge.
Nathan Griffis is a principal at Cuhaci & Peterson Architects, Engineers & Planners, headquartered in Maitland, Fla. The firm has additional offices in Boston, Orlando and Philadelphia.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.