NEW YORK — Labor has been a challenging issue for convenience store retailers for several years, particularly as municipalities approve minimum wage hikes and unemployment remains low. However, as retailers have invested much of their technology dollars in consumer-facing technology, they have forgotten that their employees are also users of technology.
Focusing on employee-facing technology can go a long way in reducing turnover — and improving the overall guest experience, according to exhibitors at the National Retail Federation's NRF 2020 Vision: Retail's Big Show & Expo.
As Nucleus Research noted in a recent report, retailers must provide new incentives to attract and retain employees. For example, the firm pointed out that 25 percent of the country is unbanked or underbanked. With that in mind, offering on-demand pay services can be a differentiator in the retail landscape.
NRF 2020 Vision took place Jan. 11-14 at the Jacob K. Javits Center. Here is a look at several exhibitors who showed off employee-facing technology innovation:
In today's competitive landscape, attracting and retaining employees is key to a convenience store's operations. Improving the employee experience goes hand in hand with improving the customer experience, and workforce technology is one tool retailers can use to achieve both goals.
"There are a lot of great customer solutions out there, but they skipped over the associate," said John Orr, senior vice president of retail strategy and execution at Ceridian.
The company's Dayforce platform helps retailers optimize their workforce by addressing financial wellness — which ultimately improves the overall employee experience. Designed with a bulletin board in mind, the mobile solution allows employees to swap shifts, request time off, and pick up additional shifts.
"The systems need to be there for associate engagement more than ever," Orr explained. "It gives the associate the ability to participate in their work/life balance."
Next up for Ceridian is Dayforce Wallet. Scheduled to go live in the spring, the on-demand pay solution will give employees real-time access to their earnings.
"We need to get retailers to stop thinking of labor as a cost," Orr said. "It's an investment. If associates are happy, the customers are happy."
Retail research and consulting firm dunnhumby revealed its latest Retailer Preference Index (RPI) for the convenience channel at the event. The index measures customer preference on five pillars: convenient quality, fresh and healthy, price, discounts and rewards, and digital. Based on 21 attribute questions posed to customers in 7,000 U.S. households, the firm identified the convenience store chains that scored in the top two quartiles.
First-quartile retailers, in no particular order, were QuikTrip, Wawa, Sheetz, Kwik Trip, RaceTrac, Casey's and Maverik. Second-quartile retailers were Turkey Hill, Cumberland Farms, Royal Farms, GetGo, Kum & Go, Holiday Stationstores and Thorntons.
Among the most important findings of the study were:
Size really does matter. Scale is not a strategic advantage in convenience, and may actually be a disadvantage. Smaller regional operators have been able to better adapt to evolving customer needs.
Store count and convenience locations are still relevant. Because of the strength of the customer emotional connection and the ability to convert awareness into purchase, high store numbers alone are not enough for superior growth.
The "cream of the crop" excel in fresh and ready-to-eat. Good, quality fresh and ready-to-eat items are the biggest differentiator across all performance metrics.
The "Retail Basics" are essential. The key for underperforming retailers is to start with getting the retail basics right — store experience, assortment and price. Then, develop the ready-to-eat, fresh and healthy areas, and finally use digital and a rewards program to share the improvements with the world.
A few bad apples can spoil the bunch (and a brand's reputation). With a high proportion of franchisee-owned stores, larger retailers have more difficulty maintaining a consistent positive in-store experience at these independent operators.
Channel cross-shop is on the rise. While there is ample cross-shop between the convenience, dollar and drug channels, c-stores have the advantage in gas, beverages, ready-to-eat and tobacco. Plus, the demographics of dollar and drug consumers are more similar to one another, than they are to c-stores, with convenience attracting more younger males than the other two channels.
Hughes Network Systems
"It's all about optimizing the brand experience," said Jeff Bradbury, senior marketing director, North America, for Hughes. "We are on the cusp of a transformation, but we believe the brick-and-mortar store will continue to be the hub of the omnichannel universe."
A store's brand is "most effectively experienced inside the store," he pointed out.
Hughes is helping retailers by supporting new in-store technologies, including frictionless checkout, digital media and signage, and augmented reality.
"The c-store needs to be about convenience with a capital C," Bradbury said.
Much of the focus over the past 10 years has been on consumer-facing technology, but retailers need to focus on the employee experience "because, at the end of the day, it will lead to a better guest experience," according to Amanda Nichols, senior manager, retail, hospitality and foodservice practice, for Kronos Inc.
Through workforce technology platforms, operators can make their employees' — and the managers' — lives as easy as possible. "We can allow them to do what they need to do without jumping through hoops," she said.
Doing so results in a different type of frictionless experience, and that is a frictionless employee experience, Nichols said.
Customer experience is central to the shopper journey and when it comes to the convenience channel, c-store operators need to remember one thing: "Convenience is meant to be convenient," said Gavin Bisdee, vice president of global marketing at Zynstra.
However, legacy technology is an obstacle to ramping up the guest experience, he noted. "Legacy technology is not built for today's customer experience," Bisdee said. "Today's customer wants everything now."
That is where Zynstra's concept of virtualization technology comes into play — breaking down the barriers through innovation. Through a cloud-based solution, retailers can integrate all in-store applications and manage them from one platform.
"All the processes have to be run 'at the edge', or at the store," he said, "not from a data center."