The start of a new year is usually a good time to look forward, with anticipation and excitement about how the next 12 months will unfold. One thing's for sure: 2024 will present its share of challenges and triumphs for retailers in the ever-evolving convenience store industry.
Looking into my crystal ball, I see some trends that are more obvious than others. For example, I don't think anyone will argue that electric vehicles (EVs) will have an accelerated impact on the c-store industry this year. More convenience stores will incorporate EV charging stations and add diverse amenities for these EV customers, including more sit-down dining opportunities.
After EV, the second most talked about trend is probably artificial intelligence (AI), specifically generative AI that will automate more complex tasks, from inventory management to robotic tools that can cook your hamburger from patty to bun. We'll see more utilization of GenAI to increase productivity and boost output. But will it present retailers with new challenges around cybersecurity?
What else do I see in my crystal ball?
- More c-store retailers will be striving to differentiate themselves from their competition — especially through their foodservice offerings. Consumers want unique and different experiences. Retailers need to find and celebrate their own particular "secret sauce." The retailers that can change the customer's thinking from "I'm going to the convenience store" to "I'm going to Rutter's or Kwik Trip or (fill in your brand name)" will be winners in 2024.
- Beverages will also play a huge role in foodservice growth this year. Health-conscious consumers seeking protein, energy and a host of other functional benefits will fuel this trend. The beverage category was one of the most exciting in terms of new product innovation at last year's NACS Show.
- Although the Biden Administration delayed its federal menthol ban until at least March 2024, I expect we'll see more flavored tobacco bans going into effect due to state regulatory action in the coming year.
- Employees will become more demanding of their employers for hybrid work schedules, time off, childcare and other work-life balance issues. In addition, the growing use of automation will have a negative effect on frontline morale.
- Merger and acquisition activity will accelerate among both large and midsized retailers.
- There appears to be a 50/50 chance of a recession in 2024, so retailers must think value first, value second and value third in their offers to cash-strapped consumers. This also means finetuning their digital offers and making them more strategic and targeted.
- After attending a presentation on retail media networks at the 2023 NACS Show, I think this type of digital advertising will grow in the coming year. It serves as both a new revenue stream for retailers and an effective way to promote products and services in-store.
- If retail theft isn't stemmed — and I don't see much action by lawmakers to crack down on it — the large-scale store closings we've seen in the department and drugstore channels will happen in the convenience store industry as well.
I hope all our readers have a wonderful and prosperous 2024, and I hope to see many of you at industry events in the coming year.