Convenience Retailers Must Tap Innovation to Meet 'Sky-High' Expectations
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Retail technology is becoming a bigger priority than ever before, as evidenced by the record number of attendees at the 2019 Conexxus Annual Conference. The 200-plus convenience store industry members at this year's event have a full plate when it comes to innovation.
Kwik Chek Food Stores is just one of them. Kevin Smartt, CEO of the Texas-based chain and chairman of the Conexxus board of directors, told conference attendees that his company's innovation pipeline is full and runs the gamut from loyalty programs, to mobile app food ordering, to the testing of self-checkout and mobile checkout, to deep data and consumer analytics, to blockchain.
Regardless of what is on the "to-do" list, though, it all comes down to putting systems in place that are critical to the c-store consumer, Smartt explained during the event's opening session.
"We sell a lot of stuff, but we really need to understand our consumer," he said. "Then, we need to understand what our consumer wants."
The Future Landscape
The future landscape of retail and technology's role in it is "simple" and boils down to a few key themes, according to Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus. These themes are:
- Technology will continue to empower fickle consumers.
- Every business is in the convenience business, and the definition of "frictionless" changes daily.
- Every business will be in the data business.
- Traditional scale is dead weight; new scale comes from the technology and logistics pool.
- IR4 technology, or the fourth industrial revolution, will eradicate distance, location and immediacy as "moats."
"The digital consumer has sky-high expectations when it comes to convenience," Taylor said. "We have to ensure a convenient and frictionless shopping experience. Accessibility and relevance is no longer about physical location, but also about digital presence."
Evolution of Retail Technology
The convenience store industry has seen its technology move beyond the basic forecourt to the store-to-the back office model. With innovation, the industry "is moving the store out into the customers' hands" with initiatives like loyalty programs and mobile payments, Taylor explained.
The next generation, he believes, will include more cloud-based security, self-checkout, digital customer-related management and artificial intelligence (AI) checkout. This new wave is expected to come within the next five years, he said.
Looking three to seven years out, the industry will see advanced analytics, IoT (Internet of Things) food safety, vendor data exchange and home delivery. And if Taylor had to pick just one technology to keep an eye on, he said it would be autonomous delivery vehicles.
As more work needs to be done in the convenience store industry, the Conexxus chief advised retailers to keep some questions in mind:
- Are you prepared to defend your turf and expand into new turf?
- Are you driving efficiency in the supply chain?
- Is your technology stack encouraging innovation?
- Do you have a data-driven culture?
- Do you have your eyes fixed on the horizon?
"Retailers need to be leaders," he said. "You cannot look to your vendors to tell you what your customers want."
The 2019 Conexxus Annual Conference is taking place April 28 to May 2 at the Loews Vanderbilt in Nashville.