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2 Key Strategies to Freshen Up the C-Store Shopper Experience

The difference between a “quick-stop” and “keep-on-driving.”

For convenience store customers, fresh is the difference between a “quick-stop” and a “keep-on-driving.” And nowadays, foodservice sales account for over 23% of in-person sales—so c-stores can’t afford to discount the importance of a robust fresh offering.

Successful c-store retailers are honing in on the shopper experience to emphasize freshness both in-store and online. How can you learn from them?

#1: Turn Your Employees into Fresh Ambassadors

Your employees are often the first and last thing a shopper sees in-store. And now more than ever, consumers expect high-quality retail experiences: 88% of respondents in HubSpot’s Annual State of Service report agreed that shoppers have higher expectations now than in the past.

Meet those expectations with a fresh-first mindset.

The labor struggle is poignant in the c-stores space. Foster an infectious fresh culture that spreads beyond the confines of the store, turning that challenge into a clear competitive edge. Employees that serve as strong brand ambassadors can translate easily into fresh ambassadors: promoting new fresh selections to customers and ensuring items are fresh, right on schedule. Front-facing employees shouldn’t be bogged down by cluttered data management and complicated inventory/ordering processes. Give your associates the power to be knowledgeable about fresh practices and protocols, saving them time and energy that can be redirected to shoppers.

Positive customer service interactions ultimately retain shopper loyalty. Turn your employees into the face of your fresh foodservice, and watch your clientele return time after time.

#2: Fresh is the New Personalization 

Every customer is unique. For some, a c-store might be an integral part of their day. Stopping by first thing in the morning for a hot breakfast and coffee, or swinging by in the late afternoon to refuel and grab a snack. For others, the c-store stop may be more spur-of-moment, when they crave a fresh-made sandwich or ice-cold soda. 

When personalizing the fresh experience, accounting for variety is key.

Take the loyal app user: Incisiv's Loyalty Program Index 2022 finds that the starting point for over 85% of customers is digital. Meet your customer there. Robust loyalty programs, acutely personalized features, and a highly differentiated online presence are great first steps to capturing the digital shopper. App offers for first-time and loyal users alike encourages return shopping and offers a level of excitement to the often mundane experience of app-ordering. Huck’s Market is a great example of a c-store that tailors the app experience to each individual user—the retailer network was chosen by Par Technology as the 2021 Retention Rockstar for its 70% retention rate quarter-over-quarter through consistent, layered offers in-app.

Now take the early riser: 27% of c-store shoppers say they make morning purchases (between 6:00 and 10:00 am) at a convenience store. Providing a fresh experience first thing in the morning can be crucial for frequent on-the-goers. Consistently fresh morning offerings— grab-and-go prepared sandwiches from a hot case, fresh-cut and packaged fruit or yogurt cups in a cold case—make lasting impressions on shoppers and keep them coming back. Further, enhancing morning offers by including something free—say a free cup of coffee—with something new—say a scrambled egg bowl—might encourage customers to stop inside and explore other new items. Early risers are most likely to engage with a larger variety of menu offerings—not to mention extremely likely to return and become dedicated, high-volume shoppers. 

And don’t be afraid to make fresh local, too. TXB (Texas Born) stores recently rolled out a special summer assortment of smoked pulled pork sourced locally from an Austin-based smoked meats brand.  A local twist on limited time fresh offerings will pique interest and keep shoppers coming back for future personalization. 

Don’t miss any opportunity to serve personalized fresh, every time. Every shopper may be unique, but every shopper appreciates a fresh, friendly experience—no matter what the time of day.

Invest in Tech that Drives Fresh Success 

Retailers always want to ensure customers have the freshest products at the right time, whether they’re shopping in-store or online—but Fresh Ordering can pose a huge operational challenge. When it comes to finding a digital solve, the time, energy, and cost involved in system implementation and employee training can be intimidating. 

However—the outcome? Invaluable. 

A singular system—or a system that integrates seamlessly with others—should prioritize fresh-first practices, store synchronization, and employee ease of use. Intuitive, AI-powered fresh ordering can take the guesswork out of the Fresh Ordering equation: eliminating manual inventory tracking and ordering processes that rely on mental math and conjecture. Connecting fresh operations to total c-store operations takes the manual burden off associate’s shoulders, freeing their time and energy for other tasks and excellent customer service. User-friendly UI yields high adoption rates and helps employees feel empowered to handle new processes that get fresh right, every time. 

Fresh is tricky—but not impossible. Solutions that simplify fresh order forecasting, make your employees smarter about fresh operations, and connect easily with pre-existing and third-party systems are absolutely priceless.

Listen to Sarah Montgomery,Director of Strategic Accounts at Applied Data Corporation, talk more about how critical it is to freshen up your c-store shopper’s experience.

About the Author

Sarah Montgomery

Sarah Montgomery is the Director of Strategic Accounts at Applied Data Corporation (ADC), where she has helped more than 3,000 c-store locations embrace fresh-first strategies and identify opportunities to synthesize foodservice data. Seasoned operations knowledge helps Montgomery pinpoint key store-level growth potential in waste, sales, forecasting, and beyond; continuously driving her insight into value-added services and technology in the convenience industry.

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