The biggest change in design in the c-store industry over the past five to 10 years is that it has become far more customer-centric. As Michael Lawshe, president at Paragon Solutions, tells CSP, the industry is focusing on the customer experience and the customer journey much more than before.

“This is an important distinction because there is a greater understanding of the diversity of these customers and how the customer demographic changes from location to location, city to city, state to state,” he says. “If we study our customer preferences more completely, we can create the customer experience and the customer journey that they desire. This, of course, leads to greater sales and greater customer satisfaction.”

Lawshe says the biggest challenge he sees in c-store design is retailers looking for “the silver bullet, the golden ticket or nirvana when it comes to design solutions.”

“We are a society of imitators. ‘If XYZ retailer did something, we should do that.’ The challenge is to guide the retailers through a process that ends up at the correct solution for them, not what was the correct solution for somebody else,” Lawshe says.

Joseph Bona, CEO of Bona Design Lab in New York, says several factors have contributed to the c-store industry paying more attention to design. First, competition. On a regional level, there are many chains, large and small, that have learned that experience has the power to turn occasional shoppers into loyal customers.

Second, competition is now coming from all sides: Big-box stores are going small. QSRs are implementing better quality offers and ramping up technology. And new formats like Amazon Go and Foxtrot are providing unique experiences, Bona says.

C-store operators have also been benchmarking against and looking outside the channel for inspiration.

“They realize that consumers, in those moments when they’re not on the internet, now have elevated expectations of brick-and-mortar stores,” Bona says. “All of this has contributed to a heightened level of awareness of what retailers need to do to drive customer visits.”

Nadine Geering, executive vice president at D|Fab, agrees that store design plays a major role in creating a memorable customer experience. Signage and decor reflect a retailer’s brand attributes, but everything from lighting to finish choices also communicate the brand’s values.
“C-store owners are looking to retain and grow their customer base by not only offering the right product mix, but doing so in a retail environment that is welcoming, efficient and memorably different than the competition to foster customers’ loyalty,” Geering says.