Three Tips to Lure Road Travelers Into Your C-store

Retailers should do everything in their power to create a positive customer experience.

Unlike the recent past, the 2022 summer travel season paced at near pre-pandemic levels of travel volume, accompanied by record-high gas prices that climbed to over $5 per gallon. 

Sky-high fuel prices, however, aren’t likely to cause road warriors to forego their plans to visit family, friends, and favorite destinations. Millions of folks hit the road on the Fourth of July weekend alone — anywhere from 43 million to 143 million depending on the source. Millions more are likely to follow into the holiday travel season, too.

As such, convenience store retailers should be ready and waiting, and do everything in their power to create a positive customer experience — despite high gas prices — to differentiate themselves from competitors and lure on-the-road-again travelers.

This includes optimizing the forecourt to entice customers inside by providing an array of food and beverage choices to compete with quick-service restaurants. It also means welcoming modern-day payment options to the many safety- and efficiency-minded consumers who crave and require clean, sanitized facilities. Let’s explore further.

Optimize Your C-store With Interactive Forecourt Tech

Customer experience starts the moment people pull into your parking lot. By sprucing up the forecourt and using digital, interactive advertising at the pump, c-stores are more likely to provide extra value to customers and potentially attract them inside to purchase even more.

For example, c-stores can use built-in monitors on pumps to promote specials on their various handmade milkshake combinations or to optimize sales on made-to-order salads and sandwiches. When a customer inputs their loyalty number, c-stores can offer a dollar off a burger, buy-one-get-one-free sundaes, or a free small soft drink to soften the blow of high gas prices.

C-stores can also change the colorful images on digital signage to fit the weather. A refreshing ice-cold cherry slushy could lure someone inside when temperatures soar to 90 degrees and above, while a hot coffee could be better suited to cooler, drizzly days or nights. Similarly, shout out your caffeinated drink specialties early and late when travelers might be in need of an extra jolt.

By upgrading food and beverage choices inside the store — and advertising them at the right times on the forecourt — you’ll be better suited to compete with quick-service restaurants just a stone’s throw away. Why should travelers make the extra stop at a fast-food joint when the options you offer can compete? Remember, convenience is king for those just wanting to get to their final destination quickly.

Accept Modern, Safer Ways to Pay

Another convenience you can offer is providing quick, modern, contactless ways to pay for transactions. It’s no secret that today’s efficiency- and safety-minded consumers love self-checkout, tap-to-pay, and other contactless options.

Accelerated by the pandemic, self-checkout is expected to increase to $3,477.8 million in 2026, up from $1,771.8 million in 2020. As such, offering self-checkout lanes and kiosks inside your store would likely be a plus for travelers looking to get inside your store and back out to their vehicles quickly and safely.

Similarly, tap-to-pay and mobile payment options are trending up, increasing 40 percent in 2021 alone. Sure, you’ll have some customers wanting to pay with cash or other methods. However, touchless is the name of the game since the pandemic, and people who started using such methods over the past two years don’t plan to revert to other ways to pay.

Keep It Clean & Pristine

Last but not least, cleanliness is non-negotiable for a positive customer experience on road trips. In fact, most shoppers (84 percent) who stop at a c-store to fill up their tanks say cleanliness factors into whether they will go inside for more purchases.

By keeping stores spotless and offering extras like hand sanitizer and even disinfecting wipes, c-stores are more likely to become a stop of choice, possibly even luring travelers to their other locations farther down the road or on the return trip home.

Pent-up demand to travel has been and will remain high, along with gasoline prices. In fact, though they will likely fall slightly, gas prices will remain higher than in years past. C-stores should do whatever they can, as suggested in the tips above, to attract road-weary travelers like moths to a flame.

David Wilkinson is president and general manager at NCR Retail.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News