The economic ups and downs of the last few years have changed the way consumers buy, and the convenience store industry saw its fair share of impacts. Most recently, 59 percent of these retailers say they've seen foot traffic decrease as gas prices soared earlier this year, while 49 percent of customers who do come inside are buying less, according to NACS.
But even as gas prices start to decline, there are other macro trends impacting convenience stores that aren't likely to change soon. Customers who might have once walked to a convenience store to pick up a few items may now order those items on Uber Eats or DoorDash, reducing the chance they would pick up extra items while in-store. And the growth of the electric vehicle (EV) market means that drivers on their daily commutes are more likely to charge up at home, rather than stopping by the c-store.
These might seem like significant roadblocks at first glance, but convenience stores have always found a way to adapt. In fact, by improving your store planning processes — layouts, inventory, labor, etc. — you can expand your offerings and give your customers a reason they absolutely must come by. Here's how:
Seeing Green From EV
The rise of EVs might not mean an impact on your daily commuter traffic, but it will mean a traffic increase from out-of-town visitors. These aren't customers who will stop by for five minutes to fill up their tank. Instead, they may stop for an hour or longer to get a full charge, offering a brand-new captive audience for your convenience store.
Capitalize on these new customers by rethinking your store layout. While you likely already offer fresh food, chances are you don't have a seating area or if you do, it's one or two tables. Don't make your customers sit on the curb or in their cars, especially when keeping them inside can lead to higher sales. Instead, review the traffic flow through your store to see where you might be able to reorganize shelving and open additional seating space.
Connecting your replenishment processes with demand data can help you better understand what products you can order less of, allowing you to redesign your planograms and reduce unnecessary shelving.
Inflation Bursts Fast Casual’s Bubble
Sales across quick-service restaurants have generally been up since the pandemic recovery began, but the wind may no longer be at that segment's back. Inflation is causing some of these chains to increase prices and cut down on their value menu options.
As more consumers explore economic options over their lunch break, it's important for convenience stores to make sure they have enough fresh ingredients on hand. Employing technology to forecast, replenish and plan production schedules on highly fresh products will drive a better consumer experience, while resulting in less spoilage.
Help, I Need Somebody
We've all heard about "The Great Resignation," and convenience stores are certainly feeling the impact. As stores struggle to find workers, it's become harder to complete basic operations — not just making sure the front desk is manned, but also unloading goods and keeping any foodservice operation running smoothly.
These aren't roles that can simply be automated. Until your store is fully staffed, you can leverage planning technology to think smarter about how day-to-day operations can be executed with fewer resources.
With advanced planograms connected to your inventory management system, you can understand what goods need to be restocked, where and when, allowing you to keep more goods in the backroom until you really need them and reducing the need to have a staff member continually restocking items.
Don't Fear Change – Embrace It
Even as the way consumers buy shifts, the convenience store will always be a critical part of the retail ecosystem. Still, it must evolve alongside its customers. Getting smarter about store planning processes is one way to stay ahead of change.
The best planning technologies can help you ensure you have the right assortment of goods displayed properly to maximize sales, optimize your space to make it more inviting to long-haul customers and function smoothly with less staff. That's how you give customers a reason to keep coming back.
Patrick O'Mara is the senior solution principal at RELEX Solutions, which helps retailers and consumer brands unify their planning, from demand and merchandise to supply chain and operations, for maximum customer satisfaction at the lowest operating cost.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.