CHICAGO — The coronavirus pandemic has forced convenience-store operators to pivot and adapt to a new world. With new consumer habits come new means of operating—but just how effective has the industry been six months into the crisis?
In an Outlook Leadership Community webinar, Customer Experience in a COVID World, Cameron Watt, CEO of customer experience management company Intouch Insight, Ottawa, Ontario, outlines how the pandemic has impacted consumers’ experiences with convenience stores. Here, Watt illustrates consumer sentiments during the pandemic regarding health and safety, operational execution, mobile ordering, third-party delivery and more.
The webinar is part of Winsight's new Outlook Leadership Community
- Click here to register for Watt’s on-demand webinar to find his full report and insights.
“Don’t just wait for everything to return to normal,” said Watt. “We’re in the new normal now. Don’t keep doing what you’ve always done, waiting for it to make sense again. As you make changes, measure those standards, and make sure they’re in line with new customer expectations.”
Here are five quick takeaways from Watt’s webinar …
Online purchasing is up, in-store is down
Nearly 52% of consumers said that they’ve increased their online purchase frequency since the pandemic began, according to Intouch Insight. Nearly 39% said their online purchase habits have stayed the same, only about 9% said they’ve decreased.
While online orders have succeeded, in-store traffic has declined. Almost three-fourths (72%) of consumers said that they’ve physically visited c-stores less often since the pandemic began, which outpaces big-box retailers (71%), supermarkets (66%) and pharmacies (58%).
“You’d expect gas and convenience to be fairly high, as people are buying less fuel,” Watt said.
Cleanliness is a top priority
Almost two-thirds (62%) of consumers said cleanliness was a factor when deciding to make an in-store purchase at c-stores, according to Intouch Insight. Additionally, 60% said that store cleanliness is extremely important when ordering prepared food, outpacing food quality (50%), service quality (31%) and convenience (26%).
Health and safety standards need improvement
In July, while nearly 85% of consumers said that staff wore protective gear at the c-store they visited, only 54% said that hand sanitizer was available for use, according to Intouch Insight. Moreover, only 25% said that social-distancing markers were used, 23% said they saw employees sanitizing touchpoints, and only 4% said employees asked them if they had experienced any symptoms.
“There’s an opportunity here for [c-stores] to set themselves apart,” Watt said.
Crew-serve vs. self-serve
It appears that customers remain apprehensive toward self-serve operations. Sixty percent said that they’d prefer to purchase coffee via crew-serve, while 64% said the same for prepared foods, according to Intouch Insight. Beyond that, 45% said it’s extremely unlikely that they will use c-store condiment stations even once social distancing measures relax, while 41% said the same for roller grills and bakery cases and 39% said so for dispensed beverage fountains.
“People just simply don’t want to touch things that somebody else might have touched,” Watt said.
Fuel is the outlier
Despite consumer hesitancy for self-service, 84% said that they’d prefer to pump gas on their own instead of having it done for them, according to Intouch Insight.
“You can go to a self-serve fuel location and never see another human being in terms of interaction,” Watt said. “You can do your own thing—you can sanitize your hands as you get back in your car when you’re done. It’s not the same risk as going inside the store.”