Blog Series

Striking a Balance Between Efficiency & Charm

Some retailers are experimenting with digital-only stores.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
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A digital-only Walgreens in Chicago

News hit this week that several large chains outside the convenience channel are reporting that crime is impacting their bottom line. Dick's Sporting Goods specifically called out organized retail crime and the company's ability to effectively manage inventory shrink.

Dick's is not the only chain to grabble with increased theft, but what's a retailer to do?

One news report pointed to a new Walgreens in Chicago that features a dedicated order pickup area, self-checkout stands and digital kiosks staffed by Walgreens team members. Noticeably absent are aisles upon aisles of products. The design meets consumer shifts around ordering ahead online with in-store pickup and a customer desire to spend less time waiting in line, ​​​according to Syed Arij, Walgreens' vice president of product management, operations. Another benefit: it cuts back on shoplifting.

This report brought to mind something a little closer to home. In early August, Convenience Store News reported that Wawa Inc. is testing a digital-only convenience store in Philadelphia. The test format features no shelves, just touchscreens for customers to place their orders, which are then retrieved by Wawa associates from behind the counter. Customers may also place orders at the store via the Wawa app.

Similar to Walgreens, a Wawa spokesperson pointed to the need to get busy customers in and out of the store fast, and the format still allows team members to provide the customer service for which Wawa is known. This may be true, but again it also has the effect of cutting down on crime. Shoplifters cannot steal if there are no aisles and shelves full of products. 

Is this the future of retail? I hope not. Yes, digital stores still need team members to fulfill customer orders. But ordering kiosks, while convenient and at times welcome, lack the charm and personality I admire about the convenience channel. Hopefully, c-store operators strive to strike a balance between digital and traditional stores.  

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