The very essence of convenience stores is that they have something for everyone, from essential grocery items to quick-serve food and beverages, alcohol, lottery tickets, clothing, fuel, and more.
But at the same time, this diverse set of offerings creates operational complexities when it comes to achieving and maintaining environmental health and safety for workers and customers, along with food safety, and delivering the best customer experience possible. This is especially true as the pandemic has rocked our world with new regulations and guidelines.
According to McKinsey, COVID-19 has sped “the adoption of digital technologies by several years,” and many of these changes can be here for the long haul. Convenience store chains, along with smaller independent shops, have been forced to reimagine many aspects of the way they do business over the past 18-plus months. Many have doubled down on technology to stay on top of shifting demands not only for safety and quality, but also for reducing risk and elevating customer experience.
New Risks, Rules & Tools for a New Era
From a risk perspective, fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for unsafe working conditions represent one of the biggest threats to convenience stores.
During the pandemic, this threat has grown, as employers that don’t comply with new OSHA standards can face significant fines, according to SHRM. We’ve seen this play out in California, where several grocery stores were fined by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations for OSHA violations related to “failing to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 because they did not update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the virus,” as reported by Business Insurance News.
These fines can have a snowball effect and not only impact workers’ compensation insurance premiums, but even lead to lost business and closures, depending on the severity of the violation. Lawsuits emanating from safety incidents are also a threat — from both employees and customers.
Beyond facing multiple hazards and critical control points, today’s store managers must also deal with staff shortages and turnover challenges, which can create vulnerabilities around safety, cleanliness and hygiene, food safety, and other operational procedures.
With so much at stake, now more than ever, creating a culture of excellence across all of these areas requires leaning into technology and automation.
Reasons to Embrace Digital
Here are seven ways today’s c-stores can embrace a more digital future and elevate the return they get on their technology investments at the same time:
1. Increased Accountability
Digitized processes and checklists ensure that routine assessments, inspections and preventative equipment maintenance are all performed as expected. Automation ensures tasks are scheduled at the right time and assigned to the right employees. It lets you see which tasks are being done, when they are done (checks are time-stamped), and by whom they are done. This lets operators know that everything they’ve put in place — from environmental checks to equipment inspections to food safety procedures — are followed and completed as expected.
2. Increased Productivity
Automation means you free up time for employees that could be better spent serving customers or running the store. In addition, managers are alerted of issues and able to review digital logs and pull pertinent information far more efficiently.
3. Improved Visibility & Control
Digital recording allows managers to access records centrally through the cloud for any store location at any time. It provides information, metrics, insights and trends based on geographical location, store types, ownership type, and more. This allows complete visibility — from minute details to chainwide processes — and enables leaders to make changes to their programs and ensure corrective actions are taken without having to physically visit a site, all in real-time.
4. Get Better Data & More of It
When you go digital with checklists, and utilize Bluetooth Low energy (BLe) probes and even IoT sensors, you not only get much more data, but you also get more accuratedata. Stores can then use this data to perform more accurate analyses and detect issues and trends that impact performance, quality, safety, and the guest experience.
5. Receive Alerts About Potential Issues
When automated monitoring sensors notice a potential problem (such as an out-of-range temperature control), they act as an early warning system. Employees are alerted before a more serious safety hazard develops.
6. Improve Record Security & Access
By hosting all of your data in the cloud, you eliminate the need for storage space, filing systems and physical security — and your important data becomes more secure, efficient and organized.
7. Ingrain Brand Standards & Standard Operating Procedures
Through the digitization of hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly routines, both regulatory standards and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the brand become ingrained in the way employees work. This cultivates a culture of continuous improvement and optimization focused on safety and operational excellence — from entry-level employees to senior management.
The above benefits not only bring about daily changes to store operations, but also drive greater efficiency and profits. And they are only just the beginning when it comes to what technology can do to help stores execute on their safety, quality and customer experience goals.
While technology can be used in so many ways in retail today that it can be overwhelming, the changes and complexities that have emerged over the past 18 months have shown us that there’s no time like the present to embrace a more digital future, even if it’s one step at a time.
Jim Hardeman is chief product officer and chief marketing officer for CMX, a provider of cloud-based Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS). His responsibilities include strategic initiatives, driving product direction, positioning, and marketing. Hardeman directs and oversees strategy for all software products for the company.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.