NATIONAL REPORT — When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, the demand for contactless shopping experiences increased quickly throughout both the retail and restaurant industries. Consumers wanted access to merchandise and fresh food, and they wanted the ability to pay for it all without coming into contact with other people. Whether it was curbside pickup of items purchased online or by phone, delivery straight to a customer’s home or contactless payment, many retailers immediately responded to meet the increasing demand, including convenience stores.
In April 2020, Casey’s General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, and operating more 2,300 c-stores in 16 states, announced the availability of contactless delivery for online, phone or app orders, as well as pay-ahead carryout for pizza orders.
7-Eleven Inc. expanded its roster of on-demand delivery partners in April 2020 to include third-party delivery platforms such as Postmates, DoorDash and Google. Then, in July, the company started offering at-store pickup options through its 7NOW app. This allows customers to browse and purchase items, and track when their order is ready for pickup.
Alltown Fresh, owned and operated by Global Partners LP based in Waltham, Mass., launched four different contactless options in May 2020, including curbside pickup and third-party delivery.
“We know that now more than ever our guests want options, and we view contactless shopping as well as curbside and home delivery as important choices we can deliver our guests,” said Mark Cosenza, senior vice president of Global Partners, the operator of nearly 300 Alltown and Alltown Fresh stores. “We’re also finding some of our guests want an ability to purchase groceries, meals and goods that they used to get at a bigger supermarket, but at a location closer to their home or work, and smaller in size.”
Alltown also offers contactless payment through its Alltown Insider app both at the pump and in-store, and the ability for customers to pay via their car with a technology called PaybyCar at select locations.
“We’ve put a lot of focus on listening to our guests and communicating with them,” Cosenza noted. “Our focus is on offering the goods and services and items they want, in the method they want them. It’s also important to provide options around how to complete the transaction, which is why we’ve focused on contactless payment, delivery and curbside pickup.”
While contactless payment options are not new, there has been a huge increase in demand and implementation of them since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many c-store operators and cross-channel retailers who had rollouts on the backburner moved up their timelines to get solutions implemented or expanded in their locations.
“Customer usage of contactless payment at Love’s has nearly doubled since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Ginny Webb, chief information officer and vice president of technology at Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc., based in Oklahoma City and operating more than 550 locations in 41 states.
Love’s expanded its contactless payment options last year both in-store and on the forecourt. The retailer now accepts Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay; tap and go credit cards, such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover; and new smart terminals that combine with Love’s credit processing software to cut checkout time in half.
“We also have our own app called Love’s Connect, which offers — among other features — Mobile Shower Check In, which allows customers to sign in and pay for showers as a contactless option,” Webb shared. “Love’s Connect has been very popular with commercial drivers, and our contactless ability on our gas dispensers has gained the most traction with our four-wheel customers.”
Another company that’s accelerated the rollout of contactless options is Exxon Mobil Corp., which began expanding its offerings in the fall of 2020.
Contactless payment had been available at its locations since 1997, when Mobil introduced Speedpass as a keychain device for electronic payment. In 2015, the company released the Speedpass+ app, which was then updated to include rewards in 2019. The newest options introduced last year include NFC, QR codes, and voice technolog
“We’ve found that all options are popular to certain consumer segments at certain times, which is why we offer so many options,” said Eric Carmichael, retail fuels sales and marketing manager for ExxonMobil. “At first, [contactless] was primarily out of safety concerns, but now we believe consumers are additionally enjoying the simplicity of contactless payment. Quickly tapping and paying, instead of fumbling with wallets or credit cards at the pump or in our store, has busy consumers in and out faster.”
Best Practices for Creating a Contactless Environment
When trying to implement new contactless shopping or contactless payment options into a store, it all starts with proper planning and making sure the right tools and support are available prior to the rollout, according to Global Partners’ Cosenza.
“Good planning and investing in the right technology and IT support. It’s also important to set expectations, goals and benchmarks as a way to measure success,” he advised.
For contactless payment in particular, giving consumers multiple options is key because there are a variety of ways to execute and each meets different needs, according to Carmichael.
Once contactless payment options are available at a store, retailers must be sure to promote the offerings at both the pump and at payment terminals as a reminder to consumers.
“Ensure station staff are educated on the payment terminals and how consumers can tap to pay or use [an app] for fuel,” Carmichael added. “Not everyone is an expert or frequent user, so a quick demo or instruction will go a long way.”