How today’s c-stores are revamping to meet consumer needs 

The c-store format excels at fulfilling in-the-moment needs, whether that’s grabbing coffee on the way to work or satisfying late night sweet tooth cravings. But the uncertainty and instability of 2020 exposed how many in the sector had become too comfortable resting on their quick and easy advantage with the on-the-go consumer. Now coming out of the pandemic, many brands are looking to new ways to enhance the convenience store customer experience and regain loyal shoppers.  

Early lockdowns meant fewer commuters on the road during the pandemic, less gas purchases, and less foot traffic. Yet, data shows that many retailers either made up the sales elsewhere, or recovered later in the year. A large majority (more than 70%) of respondents to NACS’ Retailer Pulse Survey indicated that sales were either the same (11.27%), somewhat higher (42.25%), or significantly higher (16.9%) in 2020 compared to 2019.  

However, the same survey found that many retailers have some apprehension about how convenience-seeking consumers will change their behaviors, with 41% raising their hand to say they’re not too optimistic about shopper foot traffic moving forward. Hence the customer experience overhaul to try and counteract the doubts. Let’s look at some of the ways the convenience sector is innovating to meet consumer expectations. 

Stores are going digital to reduce touchpoints and build loyalty 

Contactless technology had its heyday in 2020. Many consumers continue to seek ways to engage with retailers in a meaningful way while reducing physical touchpoints. Particularly if it is through an essential tool to their daily lives – their cell phones. 

Southeastern c-store Enmarket launched a new mobile app in May, offering shoppers the ability to securely pay for in-store merchandise using their phones at checkout, or even at the pump as they fill up with gas, eliminating the need to swipe a card or enter a PIN. Shoppers can skip a checkout line altogether with intuitive scan and go capabilities baked into the app. Enmarket’s loyalty program, Enjoy Rewards, is another feature of the app, allowing shoppers to earn points, redeem rewards and access exclusive in-app coupons.  

For those who already had an app, adding new features is one way to drive loyalty and purchase frequency even more. For example, in June Kum & Go added mobile “order ahead” features to its app, based on its commitment to “making customers’ lives more convenient.” Now when consumers visit one of more than 400 store locations, they’ll have the option to have pre-purchased items delivered to them either “car-side as they fill up, or grab and go at the front of the store.”    

The urgency of ‘grab and go’ hits home with ‘on-demand’ 

Why get out of your car, much less drive to the store, when it’s possible to have that need-it-now item delivered straight to your door? Many convenience stores have gone a step beyond in-store ‘grab and go’ by choosing to offer at-home delivery as well. They are doing so by partnering with DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and more, as Convenience Store News reported 

  • Jacksons and ExtraMile by Jacksons says they are “leading the customer experience in convenience,” working with Instacart to bring same-day delivery to stores across six U.S. states.  
  • Casey’s says it has seen demand for delivery double since April 2019. It recently added a new service with Uber Eats to bring delivery options to 100 more stores than available previously.  
  • Speedy’s Convenience added alcohol delivery through its recent partnership with Drizzly. The family-owned business recognized the value of customers exploring its “wide inventory from the comforts of home and enjoy on-demand delivery in 60 minutes or less.” 

Other tech players are getting in on the delivery action, with startup Lula recently raising a seed round of investing. The company says it’s “creating the world’s largest convenience store by empowering local retail,” with a model that digitizes participating stores’ inventory and then working with third-party delivery partners to fulfill orders.  

P.S. give Lula a ‘follow’ on Instagram to see the top products shoppers order on its platform. I spotted a couple of repeat contenders on the most-ordered lists from January and February of this year – diapers and wipes were in high demand, as were Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Cheetos.  

Are you wanting to dabble in delivery? Convenience Store News also has a thorough guide to “Mastering On-Demand Delivery” available on its site here 

Retailers are reworking the c-store to fit new behaviors 

From opening new locations to remodeling existing stores, convenience retailers are making headlines with their latest store-based initiatives. There are fun concepts like the walk-in “beer cave,” and fully staffed kitchens cooking to-go meals you’d otherwise find in a grocery store’s fresh foods section. Kwik Trip revamped its food service over the past year, introducing Kitchen Cravings Take Home Meals in more than 680 stores. We’re talking BBQ ribs, beef stroganoff, and even a roasted turkey dinner with stuffing and mashed potatoes. 7-Eleven also expanded its Laredo Taco Co. quick-service restaurant “north of the Texas border” this year. And, wouldn’t you know it – the full Laredo Taco Co. menu is also available via DoorDash contactless delivery.   

As another example of store updates and modifications, GPM has a total of 10 remodeling projects planned for Arko stores in 2021 out of a total 360 remodels “in key locations in the next three to five years” spread across all GPM brands. Because the company’s grab-and-go sales increased 35% over the previous year, and frozen food sales increased by 55%, the retailer added more than 500 new coolers to expand its cold and frozen offerings. The CEO of Arko Holdings Ltd. and GPM, Arie Kotler, said these changes are fueled by its “learnings from our customers’ shopping behaviors, as well as the changing consumer environment.”  

Intelligent pricing can fuel even more c-store success 

More and more convenience stores are starting to look like mini supermarkets, now offering similar categories and fulfillment services. From fuel fill-ups and snacks to onsite kitchens and meal kits, convenience stores are fulfilling a wider-growing variety of consumer needs.  

Interested in learning more about how a convenience store retailer can price as intelligently as its big grocery peers? Check out how Holiday Stationstores increased pricing process efficiencies and recognized year-over-year profit increase, led by data science and help from Revionics experts. And if you’re ready to talk shop, we’re here for that too. 

About the author

Maisie is a content marketer and copywriter specializing in B2B SaaS, ecommerce and retail. She's constantly in pursuit of the perfect combination of words, and a good donut.