CHICAGO -- Convenience stores sit at an enviable place in the retail universe. Other channels—grocery, drug and mass—provide for specific consumer needs, but convenience, by definition, satisfies accessibility and the need for speed at which those requirements of life are fulfilled on the go.
So it’s not surprising that other channels—traditional or otherwise—have threatened and will continue to threaten to take a piece of convenience for their own, and will look for new ways to do it.
In the post-modern retail environment, the online channel has also proven to be eager and willing to find a way to encroach on convenience, as well as grocery, and it has enlisted the latest technology to do so.
Click through to look at three current attempts to co-opt convenience …
Seattle-based online retailer Amazon has launched Amazon Go, a new convenience-store-like retail outlet with no checkout—and, therefore, no checkout line—required.
Amazon Go offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options, grocery essentials, meal kits and more.
A customer needs an Amazon account, a smartphone and the free Amazon Go app, which allows entry via a turnstile.
The company’s “just walk out” technology automatically detects when a customer takes or returns products to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When the customer is done shopping, he or she can leave the store without waiting in a line or dealing with a cashier. Amazon charges the customer’s Amazon account and sends a receipt.
The first store, in Seattle, is open to Amazon employees in a beta program. It will open to the public in early 2017.
Amazon Go may not be the online retailer’s only convenience-channel beachhead. The launch follows reports that the company had plans for several brick-and-mortar retail concepts. Initial reports indicated that the company could build as many as 2,000 click-and-collect, physical grocery and c-store locations, and that a few stores already were under construction.
According to the previous reports, the Amazon stores would sell produce, milk, meats and other perishable items that customers can take home. They could also pick up previously ordered goods. And using their mobile phones or touchscreens around the store, customers could also order other goods with longer shelf lives for same-day delivery.
Amazon has denied those reports, but offered no details on what it is building or planning to build in the brick-and-mortar space.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened its latest concept store in Thornton, Colo., on Dec. 1, called Wal-Mart Pickup With Fuel. The 4,000-square-foot location is a convenience store, gas station and pickup site for online grocery orders.
The store offers coffee, soft drinks, hot and healthy snacks or other convenience items. It also offers basics such as milk, eggs and bread.
The site fulfills online grocery orders from local Wal-Mart Supercenters.
Wal-Mart Stores opened Wal-Mart to Go, a more traditional convenience store in its backyard in Bentonville, Ark., in 2014. The site features foodservice and fuel. The company has not opened additional units. The company also operates Wal-Mart on Campus (above) stores at several universities, among other small and medium formats, some with gasoline.
3. Dollar General
A more traditional and less insidious threat than digital is the dollar store. A longtime competitive channel, dollar stores have always tried to undercut convenience stores on price, numbers of stores and proximity to customers. But the rivalry is heating up again.
Recently, discount retailer Dollar General Corp. developed a new, smaller-format store, branded DGX, which closely resembles a c-store.
Within approximately 3,400 square feet, DGX will offer customers items geared toward immediate consumption, including a soda fountain, coffee station and grab-and-go sandwiches.
The retailer said the format will also offer additional items including a limited assortment of groceries, pet supplies, candies and snacks, paper products, cleaning supplies and an expanded health-and-beauty section. Dollar General also plans to feature items not typically found in c-stores, including a “carefully edited” assortment of home, electronics and seasonal goods.