Convenience stores are one of the few areas of retail that e-commerce hasn’t dramatically transformed, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been changed by technology and recent shifts in the marketplace.
In my years of partnering with convenience store brands, I’ve uncovered three common operational inefficiencies that are costing convenience stores money — and they’re surprisingly easy to fix.
1. Clean the Bathrooms More Often
We spend millions of dollars on brand positioning and advertising to portray our convenience store brands in ways that appeal to our target customers. Yet one of the most frequent brand experiences our customers have with our stores is largely untouched by these efforts: our store bathrooms.
The experience customers have with our bathrooms has a halo effect on their overall experience in our stores. We promote the freshness and quality of our food and beverage offerings, but if the bathroom is filthy, how can a customer trust that the food and beverages aren’t contaminated, too?
Studies show that 85 percent of people would not patronize a business with negative online reviews about the cleanliness of its facilities. Yet the reality is that even the busiest convenience store bathrooms often only get cleaned about once an hour.
So, make it clear to store managers how critical it is for employees to clean the bathrooms early and often — ideally every 15 minutes. Of course, before long, we’ll be able to have robots do it.
2. Upgrade Communications for Store & Field Teams
Most convenience store brands have gotten onboard with digitizing store schematics, promotional guides and training assets. Maybe you’ve already moved on to an intranet or enterprise-grade file-sharing service to distribute those documents. But how much thought have you given to the day-to-day experience of the end user?
Many retail chains are taking once-printed materials and transferring them to new digital portals, but that doesn’t always make them any more accessible by the employees that need to use them. Often, those files are only usable on the back-office desktop — leaving store managers once again printing the material for their staff or trying to email large files.
Today, there are better tools for getting large documents into the hands of the right people. Tools that give our business development managers, franchise business consultants and store managers the content they need to do their jobs on the devices they’re already attached to, from the locations they’re actually spending time at. It’s the same technology allowing them to check the weather, map a drive or check social media.
The best of these tools are fast to onboard with, easy to use and inexpensive. If your store and field teams are having trouble quickly accessing the information they need to do their jobs, it’s time for a communications upgrade.
3. Rethink Customer Loyalty Programs
For the past few decades, loyalty programs have largely followed the same formula: reward the customer based on either the amount they spend with us or the frequency at which they visit our stores.
Many brands forget that customers can do the math. They know that if they spend $20 on 10 cups of coffee, they’ll get a free cup of coffee — making their value as a customer a whopping $2.
Does this make them come back to our convenience store when they could go to the store across the street and get their ninth cup or sixth cup of coffee free? At that point, it ceases to be a loyalty program and becomes a way for customers to game our stores.
Let’s take note from the brands that have learned this lesson and run with it to great success. They’ve taken the “game” system and used it to create a customer experience that draws customers back again and again because it’s fun and exciting.
A great convenience store example of this is ampm’s Scratch Power app, which uses geolocation technology to give customers scratch cards (to scratch on their phone) when they are in-store at ampm.
The rewards are mostly small, but they have gamified and enhanced the in-store experience so that customers are eager to return. With millions of downloads and a 4-out-of-5-star ratings from more than 5,500 reviews, it’s clear this loyalty program is creating a lot of happy ampm customers.
Think about how you can reconfigure your loyalty programs to create an experience for your customers. Today’s customers enjoy the game aspect and the chance to win prizes with every visit more than they appreciate a free coffee after 10 visits.
By focusing your efforts on solving inefficiencies in these three areas — bathroom cleanliness, store communications and loyalty programs — you can create a better store experience for your customers and employees alike.
Millie Blackwell is chief executive of Showcase Workshop, a digital toolkit for franchisees and store managers that contains planograms, schematics and promotional information, replacing old-fashioned ring binders and printed guides. Request a demo at www.showcaseworkshop.com/csnews.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.