NATIONAL REPORT — As consumer behaviors change, it has become increasingly important that all aspects of convenience store operations work together to adjust to the new expectations along the shopper journey.
Speaking during the recent Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference, Kay Segal, founding partner of Business Accelerator Team, pointed to five key consumer trends that are impacting the convenience retail space:
Safety and hygiene
"The behavior changes that we see are from grocery and snack retailing, and also how food is acquired — whether it is quick serve, food components or grab-and-go products," she explained. "...The customer journey and shopping behavior have changed permanently. The consumer experience is synonymous with seamless technology."
According to Segal, safety is now gauged on a spectrum from no touch to protective touch, and consumers need visual cues. Safety is valued through environments, products, services and payments.
"The technology journey must begin with the consumer and foster an environment of trust," she said during the virtual session entitled "Bridging the Chasm: IT Requirements to Operational Execution."
Achieving that must come from all corners of a retailer's operations, with Segal recommending that c-store operators think of the customer and the impact on operations, and then work back from there.
"It sounds simple enough, but we all know it is not. The simple vision takes many departments working together to bridge the chasm that can arise if a disciplined approach is not included in the planning," she said.
The Retailer Perspective: Cruizers
The Cruizers c-store chain, part of Holmes Oil Co. in Chapel Hill, N.C., pulls from all areas of its business to adapt to change. Nick Peters, director of IT for Holmes Oil, noted that the retailer tends to be "early adopters, agile, and we do a lot of trial and error."
This was true as Cruizers worked with Salt Lake City-based Skip to roll out frictionless checkout at its 26 locations.
"Speed of adoption and ease of adoption is kind of a big deal here. We are 26 locations, so one of things we really wanted to focus on was being able to turn a software solution up and turn it up quickly," Peters explained during the session. "One of the things that really helped us was that Skip partnered with Conexxus and made it a point to get on board with Conexxus' standards. So, we were up and running with our interfaces in just a couple of weeks."
It only took Cruizers a couple of weeks to go from pilot to rollout at a couple of locations — and only three weeks to go companywide, he added.
"Having the ability to go to the proof of concept stage [and] then turn around and rinse, lather, repeat and replicate that as quickly as you need to, especially during times like this, is a big deal," Peters said.
Discussing transactional security, he noted that in times like this, it is not just technological anymore; it is physical, too. Retailers have to work harder to secure the consumer's trust.
"If you don’t build the consumer's trust, they are not going to care enough to download your app or any other application that you are trying to get them to try for the first time," said Peters. "Even with the technological advances, I still argue that customer service representatives are still on the front lines. They are the ones that will be championing your solution."
He also urges fellow retailers to consider how a platform will integrate with the forecourt, especially if the retailer offers branded gasoline.
"You have to make sure whatever you are talking about adopting fits into your current ecosystem and that it can integrate with your current offerings," he explained. "If it becomes a clunky solution or something that is not advantageous to the customer, it's counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish — and that is to give your consumer a great experience."
Pointing to the butterfly effect, he said the smallest details can make for the hugest disruptions.
"As the IT person in my company, I like to preach, 'What can we do to do our part?' I think we need to be more ecosystem aware. IT people are getting to the table more in regards to the executive table, so we just need to be aware that it's not just IT anymore. We have to be aware about what operations is doing, or even what finance is doing," Peters said. "And we have to be fanatical about process flow; just as fanatical as we are about security. We need to make sure we think through the whole process, not just one or two pieces of it. Silos are dangerous and we need to stay away from them."
The Retailer Perspective: FavTrip
Kansas City, Mo.-based FavTrip, a chain of 11 c-stores, has been building its bond with consumers through social media — reaching 950,000 consumers each month, according to Babir Sultan, president of FavTrip.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the retailer's plans to offer delivery, it paid special attention to building trust with consumers, while also making FavTrip's employees comfortable with the changes.
"During COVID, consumers' habits are changing quite a bit. As retailers, I strongly believe we need to leverage technology to respond to those changes — and not just changes from consumers. You also have to understand changes as far as the operations of your business," Sultan said.
"What are you doing to build that trust with your consumers? How do you get your message across? These are very important factors. Also, how do you make your employees feel comfortable?" he continued.
The Retailer Perspective: Quality Dairy Co.
For Quality Dairy Co., offering delivery just made sense: The 28-store chain that serves the mid-Michigan area traces its roots back to the dairy delivery business.
Quality Dairy focused on a few key considerations when it began exploring the option, according to Krystal Rademacher, retail accounting supervisor for the chain. For example, the company did not want too much interaction with its software because platforms are constantly changing. "We wanted a more plug-and-play solution," she said.
As a result, Quality Dairy began working with Vroom. The delivery platform is web-based, so it did not require any software interaction, according to Rademacher.
"We had the interest of plugging the management of our delivery service into a current position at Quality Dairy and not creating a new position," she noted.
The Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference was held virtually August 11-13. Based in Alexandria, Va., Conexxus is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market.