SAVANNAH, Ga. — In 1969, there were 11,000 convenience stores nationwide, with approximately $2.3 billion in sales, according to the Convenience Store News Industry Report from that year.
Fast forward to 2019 and there are approximately 153,237 convenience stores operating in the United States, with $661.4 billion in sales. Convenience stores account for more than one-third of the total brick-and-mortar retail universe in the U.S., according to Nielsen.
So, what will the next 50 years bring for convenience retailing? To help answer this question, Convenience Store News tapped leading c-store industry authorities.
Here is what Greg Parker, founder and CEO of the Parker’s convenience store chain, had to say:
What will the next 50 years hold for U.S. convenience retailing?
Parker: U.S. convenience retailing is undergoing a transformation because our traditional profit silos of "gas, cokes and smokes" are all under assault. We need to evolve and expand into other silos, like foodservice, providing customers with the freshest high-quality consumables they want. Rather than being a gas-based industry, we will become an energy-based industry over the next 50 years — in whatever form that may take.
The future is going to be about delivering what the customer wants in the most seamless, frictionless, time-efficient way possible. We need to digitize operations as much as possible and have the best loyalty platform and the best technology that lets us know what the consumer wants even before they know what they want.
The future of convenience is going to require that we make things even easier for the consumer, delivering items to them at their home, their office and wherever they need us. I fully expect the convenience industry to optimize delivery and pick-up service. Customers want to touch a button on their phone to place an order that will be ready when they need it. I anticipate that, in the future, convenience retailers will have fleets of autonomous vehicles that can sell items to customers wherever they are.
We know that consumption of prepared foods is continuing to grow. As an industry, we've got to have the best-quality food, prepared as close to the time of consumption as possible.
We have to continue to be focused on the customer experience. We need to make sure it's a great experience and can't lose sight of the importance of lighting, architecture, interior design and landscaping. If we exceed the expectations of the consumer, we're winning as retailers.
As an industry, we have to change our payment systems. We cannot continue to allow the credit card companies to make more money from the convenience store industry than we make. We cannot continue to be handcuffed to the Mastercards and Visas of the world. They're a legal monopoly. We need to figure out better payment systems that eliminate the middle man that's extracting more profit than we are.
How do you see Parker's adapting to this changing landscape?
Parker: In the convenience store industry, we sell time. We're saving people time and that's extremely valuable. As a nation, we're more time-starved than ever. People want to get in and get out and get what they need as soon as possible. They want to be able to multitask and meet multiple needs in one place, from picking up prepared food to energizing their vehicle.
At Parker's, we're using machine learning to figure out how to better serve our customers. Anything we can do to make things better, faster, higher quality or better tasting is a win. We're very focused on business intelligence and we’re using predictive analytics, bots and machine learning — all of which are a must-have in our industry. If businesses aren't focused on this technology now, they probably won't be around in the next decade. They simply won't be able to compete against those companies that are tapping into this advanced technology.
We're working hard at Parker's to become a foodservice company that's focused on convenience, and a technology-based company that's focused on meeting consumer demand. We're always working to improve our processes and speed up transaction time.
At Parker's, we're exhilarated by change. We see change as a major opportunity for growth. The reality is that the rate of change we're experiencing now is the slowest we'll ever experience it in our lifetime. It's only going to continue to accelerate. The convenience store industry should embrace change as we look to the future in order to exceed evolving customer expectations and set the bar even higher over the next 50 years