Did you know that the US has more than 150,000 convenience stores accounting for 80% of total motor fuels sold across the country? In such a fiercely competitive industry, staying competitive and profitable remains a huge challenge for c-store owners.
This guide discusses a handful of practical ways to enhance the c-store experience and boost customer loyalty and retention. Let’s take a look.
1. Create mobile-driven experiences
In the age of digital, consumers are always on the lookout for digital and tech-driven experiences. So, if you can add mobility to your c-store experience, you can greatly improve your sales and bottom line.
No one wants to spend an eternity waiting in line. And people shop at c-stores for convenience, remember? So, if you still haven’t done it yet, make sure to adopt a solution that allows customers the freedom to complete their purchases from their mobile devices.
7-Eleven understands the significance of mobile-driven experiences, which is why the company expanded mobile checkout to more stores in 2020. Participating 7-Eleven locations in places like Dallas, Manhattan, Long Island, and Utah now allow customers to shop, scan, and pay through the 7-Eleven app, thus improving convenience, while promoting social distancing.
You can also add mobility to your inventory and back-office systems. When every aspect of your operations can be easily retrieved from a mobile device, it can help you save time and offer even better c-store experiences to your customers.
2. Allow self-serve options
Another way to add the “convenience” in c-stores is to allow your customers to serve themselves. Not only can this free up your staff to focus on other areas but also save time for your customers.
Self-service kiosks can enable c-store shoppers to place and customize their orders easily. Plus, this process ensures that errors in ordering are minimized since it eliminates the need to convey your order to another person.
One example of a c-store company that widely implements self-serve options is Wawa, which depending on the location, offers self-service lottery machines and food ordering touchscreens. See the company’s food ordering system in action here.
Allowing self-service can greatly enhance the c-store experience while helping you plan your staffing needs better and reduce costs.
3. Provide fresh and useful product assortments
“The most inconvenient detail about convenience stores is not being able to buy the items you need. And with numerous stores popping everywhere now, it is important for these stores to be more competitive by offering more options to their customers,” says Daniel Carter, founder at ZippyElectrics.
“Beyond brands, they should also start offering more products that will give customers options of products to choose from. Having such a convenient store is the hybrid of business we need, especially now that the competition in the market is getting tighter and tighter.”
A good way to accomplish this is by offering limited-time variations of items; you could also rotate through different flavors of drinks or ready-to-eat food products. Not only will this allow customers to try something new, but also allow you to test new products and gauge their popularity.
What’s more, rotating products can give your customers a reason to return as their favorite flavors become available once again. For example, Starbucks (even though technically not a c-store) has seen huge success by making their wildly popular pumpkin spice flavor available only during the fall season.
4. Get your basics right
Times have changed, and so have consumer preferences. However, the primary reason why people shop from convenience stores still remains the same — for “convenience.”
And so, c-store owners need to put the convenience of shoppers before everything else. Some basic factors such as the ease of parking, cleanliness, helpfulness of the staff, speedy service, and product availability can go a long way in enhancing the c-store experience.
So, make sure to hire friendly attendants, maintain cleanliness, invest in landscaping and good lighting in the forecourt, and offer a good selection of fresh, ready-to-eat food and drink items.
Remember the old saying, “hope is not a management strategy”. So, don’t just hope that your stores implement the above on a consistent basis, inspect them regularly and assign corrective actions when issues are found.
Remember, getting your basics right, consistently, can help you deliver great convenience store experiences that make your customers keep coming back.
5. Speed up the checkout process
Did you know that 86% of consumers have been known to leave a store due to long lines accounting for $37.7 billion in lost sales? Customers hate waiting in line and there is nothing more inconvenient than having to wait an eternity to complete your checkout at a c-store.
If you can speed up the checkout process, you stand a good chance of retaining some of the customers you might end up losing otherwise. In addition to the mobile checkout solutions mentioned above, leverage tap-to-pay technologies, order-ahead apps, or self-pay kiosks that can speed up the checkout and deliver a smooth experience to customers.
6. Allow customers to shop at-the-pump
On average, c-stores that sell fuel get around 1,100 customers a day. However, most of them don’t end up buying anything else apart from gas. What if you could bring the store to them?
A great way to enhance the c-store experience is to leverage technology that allows for vending and ordering at the pump. For example, companies like Vendgogh offer solutions that enable customers to buy products right next to the pump.
Such offerings allow customers to refuel and get access to delicious food without having to take the kids out of the car, wander around the store, or wait in long lines.
7. Offer lucrative discounts and promotions
Who doesn’t love discounts? Price promotions on popular products, discounts on products that are often bought together, free samples, or limited-time offers are great at boosting the c-store experience.
Discounts can also help you drive some of your customers away from the competition. If you can offer some lucrative discounts on the best-selling items of your competitors, you can attract more customers and provide them a great experience.
8. Offer incentives and loyalty programs
Many business owners tend to overlook the benefits that a good loyalty program can offer. When done right, they can incentivize your c-store customers to keep coming back.
Meaghan Brophy at FitSmallBusiness says that such programs will be key for c-stores in 2021 and beyond.
“According to the AlixPartners 2021 Convenience Store Industry Outlook survey, 60% of 18 – 24 and 51 of 25 – 34 year-olds say loyalty programs are important to them, yet only 40% of c-store customers are happy with current loyalty programs,” cites Brophy.
“So, there is room to improve by adopting more flexible, points-based, or dollar-for-dollar type mobile loyalty programs.”
However, when designing a loyalty program, you must make sure that it’s easy enough for people to enter. Otherwise, they will have very little motivation to be a part of it. You must also make sure that the rewards are lucrative enough. For example, saving a certain amount on gas on meeting a particular threshold in spend.
Use signage to make shoppers aware of your loyalty program and its benefits. It’s also a great idea to allow customers to sign up for the program using an app instead of making them wait in-store to do it. This will also enable you to push your promotions or rewards straight to their phones.
9. Don’t miss out on food opportunities
One of the main reasons why convenience stores are so popular is because of their assortment of grab-and-go food and refreshments. Studies have found that breakfast foods, in particular, have the highest sales potential. In fact, breakfast constitutes the biggest share of foodservice traffic.
So, make sure that you grab the breakfast opportunity and offer a good assortment of breakfast food for your c-store shoppers. After all, you can never go wrong with a good donut or a breakfast muffin when it comes to delighting your customers.
Beyond breakfast, warmed deli, hot foods, and made-to-order items can also attract customers. As Brophy puts it, “if c-stores expand into made-to-order foods (like WaWa or Sheetz) that opens up more possibilities for offering order-ahead, pickup, and delivery services. Customizable menu items from c-stores fill a market hole for customers that want a hot meal they do not have to cook themselves that’s less expensive than a restaurant and healthier than fast food.”
10. Offer more services for modern shoppers
In addition to compelling product offerings, you can further enhance the c-store experience by implementing services and initiatives for modern, digital-savvy customers. One example? Amazon Hubs.
Businesses that have physical locations (like convenience stores) are partnering up with the retail giant to host Lockers on-site, where Amazon customers can pick up their packages. Aside from the added convenience, these lockers can help you attract more shoppers to your location.
11. Consider online ordering and delivery
Usage of delivery apps has grown exponentially over the past 12 months and this consumer behavior isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Now that the pandemic is still a big problem, I really appreciate the convenience stores that offer online order and delivery systems,” says Robert Johnson, owner and founder of Sawinery. “I do not have to worry about getting my health compromised since I am only in my house and the only interaction I have is with the delivery rider.”
Fortunately, getting in front of mobile customers who want products delivered is easier than ever. Apps such as DoorDash have expanded beyond restaurants by teaming with convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Wawa, Circle K, Casey’s, and General Store.
Many DoorDash users can now find their neighborhood convenient stores in the app, allowing them to shop using their mobile devices.
So if your store isn’t listed on apps like DoorDash yet, it’s high time to establish a presence on these platforms.
Already on the app? Make sure your customers know about it by promoting the service in-store.
12. Ask for feedback
Experts agree that asking customers for their feedback in the form of ratings and reviews greatly enhances the customer experience. It shows them that you care about their feelings and value their opinions. This applies to c-stores as well.
Soliciting customer feedback not only shows shoppers that value their input, but it gives you insights into how to make your store more convenient.
So, never lose out on an opportunity to ask your customers for a rating or a review. While a good rating can encourage others to shop at your c-store, don’t be scared of negative reviews. Instead, use them as an opportunity to provide better experiences to your customers.
Make sure that you respond to negative reviews politely and more importantly, take the appropriate steps to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently.
There are no shortcuts to making your c-store profitable and competitive. However, offering a seamless and delightful customer experience can greatly improve customer retention and loyalty. Follow the tips mentioned above to ensure that your c-store consistently offers “convenience” to your customers.
OTHER convenience store RESOURCES
Refer to the Convenience Stores category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for the c-store industry.
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.