RICHMOND, Va. — For one U.S. convenience store chain, meeting the changing needs of customers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been like a fast-paced dance.
“[The pandemic] kept us on our toes, fielding challenges we never experienced before,” Michael Bloom, executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer at GPM Investments LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Arko Corp., told Convenience Store News. “We learned a lot as a retailer and were able to adapt and respond quickly in a very unique environment.”
Early on, the Richmond-based retailer sourced suppliers from different countries to provide hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and liquid soap to help keep its customers and employees safe. COVID-related adaptations evolved from there, resulting in permanent merchandising and marketing changes that are still continuously being monitored, tweaked and refined.
Bloom shared the followed lessons learned and ways GPM is attracting customers back:
- Go big on pack sizes. Over the past year, GPM has seen shoppers make fewer trips and stock up on larger sizes of basics and consumable items.
- Increase prepacked fresh and frozen food. This lesson happened for GPM simultaneously with a slowdown in in-store food items that were not packaged. To meet this prepacked demand, the chain is adding freezers and grab-and-go coolers to approximately 585 and 650 stores, respectively, according to Bloom. Also, a packaged value chicken sandwich was added to 150 stores.
- Revise your dispensed beverage assortment. Now that the dispensed beverages area is back in business, flavors are being tweaked and retested in a space that is receiving “extra cleaning,” he noted.
- Offer more home-office-geared snacks. “We found that the purchase of gum and mints is down because fewer people are working in office environments and attending in-person meetings,” relayed Bloom. “We have seen the tradeoff of breath mints for items like chocolate, gummy items and beef jerky for home-office use.”
- Play up loyalty programs. GPM has discovered that loyalty programs play an even more important role now since the start of the pandemic. It relaunched its fas Rewards program in late 2020 and expanded it to all stores this May. The program offers customers up to 4 percent in loyalty points, and personalized offers. “Since the relaunch, we’ve seen nearly 100,000 new enrolled members who have taken advantage of our new rewards on both fuel and inside merchandise,” he reported.
- Provide contactless payments. Since the beginning of the pandemic, GPM has made contactless payments, such as Apple Pay, available in its stores.
GPM was founded in 2003 with 169 stores and has grown through acquisitions to roughly 2,950 locations, comprised of approximately 1,350 company-operated stores and 1,600 dealer sites to which it supplies fuel in 33 states and Washington, D.C.