With the ever-changing landscape in the C-store industry even before the COVID-19 crisis, such current events threaten to fast track trends to define what we know as convenience today.  Are C-store retailers ready for these potential trends that may be fast tracked due to unpredictable global influences?

Is full service fuel making a comeback? With consumer’s concerns around contact transactions at the forecourt, some retailers are now offering full service fuel as an option. This could be a trend that sticks due to the contactless option for consumers.  This option will eliminate the consumers concerns around handling the fuel pumps and keypads.[1]  Of course, there is still the possibility that a consumer will still have to hand over their credit card, so, always have wipes in the car to wipe down the credit card.  But, is the technology in place for such a trend in order to remain competitive?

Is it time to offer self-checkout in convenience stores?  This is another way to offer contactless shopping in your stores.  After selecting your own products in the store, consumers can use self-checkout to avoid contact with cashiers.  In addition, they can bag their own goods on the way out.  In a recent 2019 Convenience Store News Technology Study, 11% of respondents already offered self-checkout while another 33% plan to implement in the near future.[2]

Is it time to implement environmentally friendly initiatives?  As more and more plastic bags are being eliminated in stores, the COVID-19 crisis may encourage consumers to start bringing in their own bags to minimize another contact point in their shopping experience.  This, in turn, provides the retailer to promote an environmentally friendly program which consumers are appreciating more frequently.

Is it time to expand frictionless/mobile payment options?  In order to expand on the contactless experience, mobile payments may become more popular.  Besides the contactless experience, frictionless payments reduce the time to make a purchase in store.  This will open the door for customers to order in advance via mobile apps.

Is it time to implement an Omnichannel strategy? As more and more consumers are joining the e-commerce craze for groceries, this trend is most likely to continue post COVID-19.  As more and more consumers become accustomed to ordering online and using mobile apps, C-stores need to think about alternate channels to increase their business avenues.  Keep in mind that not all categories may be required as part of omnichannel strategy.

In addition, partnering with 3rd party delivery services may an option vs. store pick up. Now may be the time for more convenience retailers to jump onboard and offer such an option.

Consider these changing habits regarding online grocery shopping in the four weeks leading up to March 12:[3]

  • 34% of shoppers ordered grocery items online for pick-up at the store.
  • 25% made more online grocery orders for store pick-up.
  • 58% of Gen Z/Millennial shoppers (ages 18-39) ordered grocery items online for store pick-up.
  • 30% made more online grocery orders for store pick-up.

Is it time to incorporate loyalty with an e-commerce strategy?  If retailers have a loyalty program in place, this becomes an excellent time to think about linking your e-Commerce capabilities with your loyalty program to provide personalized and location-based marketing strategies.  For now, retailers are able to analyze the data to determine new trends.

Is it time to offer a contactless delivery option?  During these trying times, restaurants have moved to take out and delivery options, including the option of curbside pickup.  Similarly, retailers that already have e-commerce in place have added the option to offer contactless delivery, meaning notifying the customer the delivery is arriving and dropping it off on their doorstep.  By giving your customer this option personalizes the shopping experience which can be a plus to your business.[4]

Will we see more unmanned autonomous shopping experiences?  As the industry’s second unmanned convenience store opened last week, time will tell whether more and more retailers offer this concept due to the COVID-19 crisis.  This concept allows a customer to download an app which enables entry into the store, they walk into the store, select their items for purchase and walk out without having to check out.[5]

All of the above are valid questions to ask C-store retailers to determine which trends will be most impactful to their business.  Obviously, these trends will drive a digital transformation strategy to support the initiatives including which technology providers to partner with to provide the solutions.

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[1] https://www.consumerreports.org/cars-how-to-protect-yourself-against-coronavirus-when-pumping-gas/
[2] https://csnews.com/self-service-renaissance
[3] https://www.acosta.com/news/acosta-analyzes-growing-impact-of-coronavirus-on-us-cpg-and-retail-industries
[4] https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/06/delivery-startups-set-up-contactless-delivery-options-as-coronavirus-fears-grow-in-u-s/
[5] https://www.winsightgrocerybusiness.com/technology/contactless-microstore-social-distancing-set