ATLANTA — Fall travelers are searching for both convenience when they're in a hurry and comfort when they need to get out of the car and relax. Savvy convenience store operators will make sure they offer a fast and easy experience to customers as they gear up for the fall foliage and holiday travel seasons, according to NCR Voyix.
Current convenience and fuel retail trends include:
1. Fall travelers are hitting the road, and self-service brings them back.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans expect to travel this fall or winter, and many are looking for a more seamless experience that lets them get in and out quickly, both at the forecourt and inside the story.
Self-checkout systems are growing in use across multiple retail channels. At c-stores, they help solve labor shortage while increasing convenience. As the year comes to a close and 2024 budgets are finalized, the c-store industry is likely to see more plans announced for installation of self-service technology, according to NCR Voyix.
2. Tap-and-go payments at the pump and mobile app options become more prevalent.
Typical in-a-hurry shoppers spend less than four minutes inside the store, prompting retailers to implement more programs that put customers first by meeting their need for speed. This includes offering tap-to-pay capabilities such as Apple Pay or Google Pay as well as proprietary apps.
Valero, CITGO, Marathon and bp have also rolled out programs enabling consumers to use an app to authorize fuel pump purchases from their smartphone. While details of their loyalty programs differ, these apps will collectively continue to draw in customers by unlocking rewards.
3. Edge technology is edging into convenience stores.
Edge computing — or technology-related actions performed outside a centralized datacenter, where edge is the intermediary between the connected endpoints and the core IT environment — is making its way into more c-stores and driving operational efficiencies and agility. As the number of applications, smart devices, sensors and endpoints in stores grow, edge technology also increases in popularity because it can cope with increased data volumes, real-time requirements and network conditions that centralized cloud infrastructure cannot easily handle. This includes latency, jitter or availability issues that are common to large, distributed retail environments.
Because retailers need to make changes faster and have more agility to continue driving improvements to the customer experience, c-stores will increase their adoption of edge technology, driving a faster time to market and a lower cost of change.
4. Make it comfortable to come in and stay a while.
Even as they work to make shopper trips speedy, c-stores are also innovating to entice families to stop and stay a while as they have a coffee or meal. The rise in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and the rollout of charging stations serve as one driving force in this change. Benefits include increased foot traffic as EV drivers come inside the store to shop while they wait for their vehicles to charge, likely leading to increased food and beverage sales.
C-stores are also offering healthier or more gourmet options, such as salads, made-to-order meals, fruit smoothies and even kombucha, on tap. Craft beers, a wide selection of wines and multiple varieties of coffee are also available at many c-stores.
Many larger c-stores will take advantage of the down market and buy or restructure their debt load from CapEx and OpEx models, NCR Voyix predicted.
However, managing technology stacks amid acquisitions and restructures can be difficult, making it important that c-stores can avoid the legacy tech trap and implement high-impact innovation with trust and contained operational disruption. C-stores require modern IT infrastructure that extends from the in-store edge to the cloud software, enabling a streamlined operating model.
"Convenience and fuel retailers will continue to be known for their speedy service and convenience," said Eric Schoch, executive vice president and president, retail, NCR Voyix. "However, many changes are taking place — ones that follow consumer patterns: EV charging stations to attract the increasing number of motorists who've purchased electric vehicles. Patrons who will pass up candy bars and soda for a healthy salad and freshly ground coffee. And edge computing will help convenience store operators elevate the experience for both consumers and store associates.
"By keeping some of these emerging trends in mind, c-stores can look for a successful fall foliage and peak season — when consumers will be traveling more and looking for all that convenience stores have to offer," he concluded.
Headquartered in Atlanta, NCR Voyix is a digital commerce business.