As the name implies, convenience stores have one major advantage over other retailers — convenience. And for the most part, that means saving customers’ time.
In fact, NACS found that 63% of customers ranked saving time through convenient locations and short lines as their top reasons for shopping at c-stores. Another 52% said that beyond getting food and gas, they chose to shop at c-stores because they could get in and out fast.
And while this seems like a given considering the nature of the industry, c-stores can’t afford to squander this competitive advantage. Especially with the rising popularity of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and dollar stores.
So to make sure your c-store remains top-of-mind when it comes to making things fast and easy, here are five ways you can improve convenience for shoppers:
1. Integrate loyalty rewards into your mobile app
Image credit: Royal Farms
Let’s face it: pulling up loyalty rewards on a phone is just way easier for consumers than any other method. They don’t have to carry around a punch card or remember to bring paper coupons with them to the store. And everything is tracked automatically (points, rewards, promotions, etc).
In fact, Forrester Research analyst Thomas Husson told The Wall Street Journal that, “Having access to loyalty program points and rewards within a mobile wallet is the No. 1 feature [consumers] are interested in.”
As a result, app-based loyalty programs are among the latest developments in many leading c-store chains.
Case in point: Royal Farms
Royal Farms recently upgraded its mobile app to include loyalty rewards, with the main goal of making it “more convenient (and fun) to be a loyal ROFO customer.”
Customers can now see how close they are to earning rewards for various products using a virtual punch card. And current offers are easily found in the rewards section, along with expiration dates and accumulated points.
Besides making it more convenient for customers, integrated loyalty rewards often provide c-stores with additional data. That’s because punch card style programs, like buying 4 coffees and getting the 5th free, provide an incentive for customers to enter their membership info with each purchase.
2. Accept mobile and contactless forms of payment
Image credit: C-Store Decisions
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many types of digital transformation — mobile payment being one of them. And like other conveniences made commonplace during the pandemic, consumers are now accustomed to it.
“Many customers don’t want to have to pull out their wallets anymore,” said Mark Cosenza, senior vice president, for Massachusetts-based Global Partners, which operates nearly 300 c-stores.
“They want to pay by phone,” he continued. “Younger generations were already starting to expect that, but COVID moved everyone in that direction.”
So if you want your c-store to remain a convenient place to shop, you’ll want to accept mobile and contactless forms of payment. Otherwise, customers will likely go elsewhere.
An especially convenient way to accept mobile payment is by integrating it into your app, as with the loyalty rewards. This makes your app a literal one-stop shop for the customer, allowing them to redeem rewards, order food, activate gas pumps, and pay for it all in one place.
Bindu Gupta, Head of Loyalty Strategy Consulting, explains it this way: “Incorporating the payment functionality within a fuel retailer’s mobile app can help boost convenience store sales in addition to fuel purchases. This creates a friction-free experience and saves time for the customer which means more brand recognition and loyalty.”
Case in point: 7-Eleven’s Mobile Wallet
7-Eleven added their mobile wallet to their app in December 2020 in response to the pandemic. It allows customers to pay using cash (loaded onto the app at the register), debit and credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and prepaid 7-Eleven gift cards.
The mobile wallet is the latest feature in 7-Eleven’s comprehensive app, creating a fast and convenient shopping experience for their customers.
As Joe DePinto, 7-Eleven President & CEO says, "7-Eleven Wallet meets the needs of customers looking for convenient, contactless ways to shop and pay during this unprecedented global pandemic.”
3. Offer curbside pickup and delivery
Image credit: Wawa
Due to the pandemic, curbside pickup and delivery went from being a nice-to-have to a must-have seemingly overnight.
“How convenience is defined is completely different today than it was just a month ago,” Chris Tanco, chief operating officer for 7-Eleven, explained in the spring of 2020. “Our customers are now looking for more convenient shopping solutions at home.”
And now that customers are used to such niceties, they’re not going back. After all, curbside pickup and delivery are way more convenient than trudging through the store and standing in line, coming into contact with multiple people during a pandemic.
Case in point: 7-Eleven and Casey’s
7-Eleven began offering delivery in 2017 from select locations. In 2020, however, the company responded to customer needs by doubling their delivery footprint and quadrupling daily delivery orders.
The massive c-store chain now delivers in 43 metropolitan areas encompassing 514 cities. And they offer 24/7 delivery on over 3,000 products, from foodservice to cleaning supplies.
To make it as convenient as possible, 7-Eleven also allows customers to order via their proprietary 7Now app or through third-party platforms including UberEats, GrubHub, Instacart, Postmates, DoorDash, Google Food Ordering, and Favor.
Another good example comes from the Iowa-based c-store chain Casey’s. Casey’s launched a new mobile app in 2019, allowing customers to customize their pizza, place an order for delivery or carryout and save orders for future reference.
In the spring of 2020, Casey’s added a “no contact” delivery option, like 7-Eleven, allowing customers to minimize person-to-person contact. They also announced a new partnership with DoorDash in the spring to expand delivery across their 16-state footprint.
And in September, Casey’s began offering curbside pickup after pilots in several cities revealed that customers liked the option via the Casey's app — appreciating the convenience of being able to submit their pizza and grocery orders before arriving at the store to pickup.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important to provide our guests with greater access to options for safe and convenient delivery for a family dinner or the essentials they need,” said Chris Jones, chief marketing officer at Casey’s.
4. Allow online ordering for foodservice and merchandise
Image credit: Sheetz
Another service that really took hold during the pandemic is online ordering. And like pickup and delivery, customers don’t want to go back — online ordering is just way more convenient.
For example, many apps will save orders so customers can easily find their favorites. This makes re-ordering a breeze, saving customers the time that goes into decision-making and placing an order.
Online ordering also saves time by allowing customers to place their order before arriving at the store — eliminating the need to wait in line to order, wait for it to be prepared, and then wait to checkout.
Instead, by the time the customer arrives at the store, the order is ready and paid for. They just need to grab it and go. And while online ordering in c-stores is most often used for foodservice, there’s plenty of room to grow into other merchandise and grocery items as well.
Case in point: 7-Eleven
7-Eleven’s online ordering system goes well beyond foodservice, allowing customers to order just about anything you could get inside the store. Categories include:
- Fresh food
- Beer and seltzer
- Ice cream
- Personal care
7-Eleven’s online provides a convenient way for customers to shop with them — it’s fast, easy, and safe.
5. Set up mobile checkouts and self-payment kiosks
Image credit: Sheetz
There are few things more annoying than standing in line. Especially when you’re in a rush, as most consumers are in a convenience store.
To that end, anything you can do to eliminate lines and speed up the checkout process is a good thing. And mobile checkout and self-payment kiosks both fit the bill. In fact, 68% of consumers in the 2020 NACS survey said contactless and automatic checkout technologies would save them time.
And as you can see in the chart above, it’s surprisingly not just the younger generation interested in this type of convenience — 91% of consumers over 65 also thought it would save them time.
Case in point: Sheetz
Sheetz recently launched a new mobile checkout feature called, “SHcan & Go!”. It allows shoppers to scan and pay for products through the Sheetz app while minimizing the need for person-to-person interaction during the checkout process.
“This new feature continues to deliver on our mission to be the ultimate in convenience, allowing customers to scan and pay for items they need easily and quickly,” said Travis Sheetz, president and COO.
Sheetz’s mobile checkout eliminates the need for customers to stand in line, making the entire store experience faster and more convenient.
At the end of the day, customers are shopping at your c-store out of convenience. But as preferences change over time, that can mean different things. Here’s a recap of five ways you can improve convenience for customers right now:
- Integrate loyalty rewards into your mobile app.
- Accept mobile and contactless forms of payment.
- Offer curbside pickup and delivery.
- Allow online ordering for foodservice and merchandise.
- Set up mobile checkout and self-payment kiosks.
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