Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way convenience stores optimize operations, improve quality and safety, enhance the guest experience, and much more. Additionally, AI can help c-stores streamline their operations, improve supply chain processes, boost sustainability efforts, and gain key insights to drive more informed decision-making. With growing competition in the retail space, AI is emerging as an essential tool to help c-stores increase customers, loyalty, and sales.
In fact, AI is expected to add $90 billion to $100 billion to the economy in the next three years. The explosive growth of AI is due, in large part, to the many significant business benefits it offers, and well-known brands like AmazonGo, Casey's General Stores Inc., Choice Market and Lawson's are using AI to:
Analyze massive, complex data. One of AI's biggest benefits is its ability to analyze large volumes of data. This provides important insights that guide better decision-making, which can help improve staffing, scheduling, purchasing and other decisions to save money, optimize resources and reduce waste. For instance, c-store operators can use AI to determine which products are best sellers — and can even indicate customers' preferences about how items are arranged in the store.
Optimize operations. AI can help improve many aspects of c-store operations and automate tasks, eliminate errors, increase productivity, optimize resources and reduce operational costs. For instance, AI-powered inventory management systems can help c-store operators accurately track stock levels, predict demand and prevent stockouts. AI can also streamline employee scheduling, considering factors like store traffic patterns, historic sales data and employee availability. As labor shortages continue, many brands are adding automation whenever possible, like deploying AI-powered robots that can restock shelves and pull expired products out of the rotation.
Improve logistics management. C-stores have many products to manage, and coordinating the complex supply chain can be challenging, especially when inventory needs — and availability — are ever-evolving. AI can monitor and analyze stores' sales history and predict future demand based on these patterns. By using AI algorithms, c-stores can ensure their inventory is properly stocked — and reordered — to meet consumer demand.
Improve quality control. AI monitors and analyzes quality parameters, ensuring the highest standards are maintained throughout the supply chain journey. By analyzing massive amounts of data, AI can accurately detect defects, contaminants or anomalies to help improve product quality. AI's pattern recognition abilities allow brands to proactively identify and address quality issues before they negatively impact products — or your brand's reputation.
Boost food safety. Any mistake or misstep can cause a food safety breach that can sicken guests and potentially ruin your brand's reputation. Therefore, use AI to detect contaminants or spoilage to improve food safety, regulatory compliance and consumer trust. AI is also instrumental in tracking and tracing products across the supply chain for faster, more accurate recalls if a safety breach occurs anywhere along the products' journeys.
Develop customer insights. AI algorithms can analyze customer data and purchasing patterns gathered from multiple sources — including point-of-sale transactions, emails, social media activity and other customer feedback — to offer personalized promotions and product recommendations. This allows retailers to provide more engaging, customized shopping experiences, leading to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, retention and sales.
Optimize supply chain management. AI improves supply chain management, allowing c-store brands to better forecast demand, optimize inventory levels, reduce delivery times, minimize costs and errors, and boost safety, quality and transparency across the supply chain. Additionally, AI meticulously tracks products along the supply chain journey, ensuring they move safely in controlled environments.
Improve the self-checkout experience. Today's shoppers are looking for fast, easy, convenient shopping experiences and AI can help deliver that. Amazon Go uses AI-powered tools, including facial-recognition cameras, intelligent apps and shelf sensors, which combine to elevate the shopping experience. Amazon Go customers can just grab their items and get automatically charged when they leave the store.
Boost sustainability. Increasingly, customers prioritize sustainability and many (84%) say that they wouldn't support a brand that lacks sustainability efforts. C-stores should prioritize sustainability, using AI to drive this initiative. For instance, AI can track data around organizations' food waste. Every year in the United States, 30% of all food and drink ($48.3 million) is thrown away due to inefficient inventory management, inaccurate demand forecasting and other preventable factors. But when brands use AI to reduce food waste via accurate demand forecasting, inventory optimization and expiration date management, they can reduce their environmental impact — and save money, too.
Elevate customer service. In the ultra-competitive retail industry, c-stores can use AI-driven tools to set themselves apart. For instance, Casey's General Stores uses AI tools that integrate with their customer rewards program. Even if customers call-in their orders, they'll be automatically linked with consumers' digital profiles. AI can also provide quick, customized customer responses to social media posts and email questions and comments, saving significant administrative time and effort on this task, reducing response time, and improving customer satisfaction, loyalty, retention and sales.
AI is revolutionizing the retail industry and has become a must-have solution for any convenience store looking to stay competitive and profitable. AI is improving all aspects of c-store operations, including safety, quality, transparency, efficiency, accuracy, sustainability, as well as elevating the customer experience.
CJ Pakeltis is director of business development at RizePoint, a technology leader in the food safety, quality management, compliance and social responsibility space. RizePoint's quality management software solutions help companies, including Starbucks, McDonald's and Hard Rock International, keep brand promises through their quality, safety and compliance efforts. For more information, visit rizepoint.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.