The C-Store of Tomorrow

Drones, driverless vehicles will change the industry, but community will stay the focus

By 
Kristina Peters, Associate Editor, CSP

Amazon delivery drone

Amazon delivery drone

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In 2035, expect to live in a world where one-sixth of the cars on the road are driverless and four to six deliveries per week are by drones.

Drones and driverless vehicles are just two of several ways the convenience-store industry will be disrupted, according to Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist for Strategy&. Other disrupters include Google Glass, 3-D/4-D printing, eye tracking and virtual humans (robots).

“In the next 20 years, there is more disruption that’s going to occur in this industry than in the history of mankind,” Blischok said at CSP’s 2015 Outlook Leadership conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week. “We are living in a very, very opportunity rich environment.”

He envisions that convenience stores will become fly-and-drive centers by 2035—retail and technology-enabled distribution centers complete with a rooftop-landing pad for drones and 10- to 12- driverless vehicles for delivery.

And delivery by drones is already being tested. A Domino’s franchise in the United Kingdom posted a video in 2013 of a drone, dubbed the “DomiCopter,” delivering two pizzas in the company’s signature Heatwave bags. Although the DomiCopter hasn’t made headlines since, it’s not to say it won’t become reality.

So what can c-stores do to better position them for the future?

With an ever-changing competitive landscape (dollar, mass and drug channels will continue to grow), convenience stores should focus on what they know best: the community.

Consumers want localized products, and convenience stores can use their understanding of the community to deliver that, Blischok said. They also want fresh.

He said most Americans do not know what they are having for dinner by 4 p.m., and large grocery is working to be that meal solution. But convenience stores can compete by offering fresh foods.

And Blischok said retailers should ask themselves, are our stores an easy format to shop; do our service levels deliver a differentiated shopper experience; and are our prices fair?

But above all, he said, “you must think outside of the box to compete in this world.”