LAS VEGAS — The consumer approach to shopping has evolved and today's customers demand more from retailers, including fast and frictionless checkout experiences and grab-and-go food options.
"Convenience store retailers must focus on creating a compelling customer experience that transforms a simple transaction into a customer — and a customer into an advocate," Lori Stillman, NACS' vice president of research and education said during the fourth and final day of the 2022 NACS Show.
"But more importantly, c-store retailers must learn how to capture those future advocates by driving shoppers to your location in the first place," she explained.
The Power of Digital
Online research accounts for 80 percent of product discovery, according to NACS. However, the convenience store industry faces an array of challenges when it comes to showing up in search engines.
Today, customers are using smartphones and other technological devices to discover what's out there, what they want, and who has it. For example, customers are simply typing or asking a question on their digital device, such as: "Hey Siri/Alexa, where is the nearest place to buy a cigar?" or "Where is the nearest place to get an iced coffee?"
As Stillman pointed out, convenience stores don't show up well in search results or at all, even if the store is within close range of the shopper. On the other hand, restaurants are readily located as part of search results.
"We don't exist if the details about our stores, our hours, our services and [our] great food offers are not visible, were not compelling and accurate, [or] our customers can't find us," Stillman stressed.
In an effort to bridge the gap, NACS launched THRIVR, powered by SOCi, a new tool to help c-store retailers succeed "in the increasingly complex and digitally driven retail landscape."
Using THRIVR, small and large c-store operators can build and manage a localized marketing strategy that maximizes their online presence, giving retailers control over their brand with accurate data and compelling content.
During the closing day of the 2022 NACS Show, the association also highlighted innovation around the industry in its annual Ideas 2 Go program. This year's video featured six retailers from across the channel.
"Convenience retailers continue to redefine what convenience means," said Jeff Lenard, NACS' vice president of strategic industry initiatives. "The retailers featured in this year's Ideas 2 Go program show how our convenience retail industry is revolutionizing the customer experience and delivering excitement with new and unique offers."
The retailers featured in this year's Ideas 2 Go program included:
TXB Stores Inc.
TXB (Texas Born) is a reimagined retail concept located in Georgetown, Texas. "We use the term Whole Foods meets Hill Country," said Kevin Smartt, CEO of TXB Stores. "It's a new convenience store concept, but it’s not anything radically different — it's just authentic."
Fresh prepared Tex-Mex fare takes center stage in TXB’s foodservice offer. "Everything we have in the store, food-wise, we make here. TXB also places a big focus on private-label products, from beverage tumblers to beef jerky. Private label represents the brand, and our goal is to try to source everything in Texas, and we have so far," Smartt added.
TXB Stores Inc. operates 46 locations throughout Texas and Oklahoma.
The Walk-Off Market, powered by Amazon
Earlier this year, Amazon launched both its Just Walk Out and Amazon One frictionless technologies at Seattle's T-Mobile Park — a first for a Major League Baseball ballpark. The two technologies are featured at the venue’s new Walk-Off Market, which is designed to eliminate lines and allow fans to enjoy baseball.
"It's all about reducing friction," said Malcolm Rogel, vice president of fan experience for the Seattle Mariners. "This type of buying experience is new for us, but desperately needed."
Lou Perrine's Gas & Groceries
Retailer Anthony Perrine became a two-store operator in April with the opening of a new Lou Perrine’s Gas & Groceries convenience store in Kenosha, Wis. The location taps into the history of the company his grandfather built with nods to nostalgia in the store décor and aesthetics.
"We are a community hub where people come together. My grandpa used to say they're not just a customer, they're family. There's an emotional attachment to them — we want them to feel like family," said Perrine.
Coen Markets Inc.
Coen is rebranding as Coen Markets, establishing a unified image and opening next-generation stores in a highly competitive c-store market.
"We're on our way to consistently doing new builds," said Charlie McIlvaine, Coen's chairman and CEO. "It's about creating a retail environment that is attractive, inviting, and meant to say 'fresh' and meant to say 'food.'"
Kwik Trip Inc.
La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip's 800th store showcases its third-generation concept. The store, located in Holmes, Wis., is 2,000 square feet larger than a typical Kwik Trip location. At about 9,000 square feet, it features an updated color scheme, new flooring, and ample space for customers to shop the store.
"We have expanded to fresh chicken in all our stores," said John McHugh, director of public relations, though Kwik Trip wants to be known for more than chicken and pizza, and that includes fresh meats.
Wakepoint LBJ is a convenience store, bar and barbecue joint on Lake LBJ in Kingsland, Texas. Whether customers come by boat or car, it is a destination for water enthusiasts and those enjoying the outdoor space for live music, festivals or Sunday gospel services, according to the company.
"The anchor to the concept was going to be the convenience store, but being on the lake, we wanted to add an experience to the traditional convenience store experience. And from there, it just blossomed," said owner Scott Westlund.
The 2022 NACS Show took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center from Oct. 1-4. This year's event featured thousands of new products and technology solutions across 425,000 square feet of expo space, 250-plus new exhibitors, and more than 45 education sessions.