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Exclusive Study: A Question of Relevance

Can c-store retailers keep up with the pace of change?
Era of Disruption
Illustration by Guy Shield

CHICAGO — In today’s need-it-now world, much of the same quickly leads to irrelevance.

For the convenience channel, which built its competitive hook on physical location and speedy service, this truth is especially acute. The arrival of home delivery, curbside pickup and Amazon Go—the cashierless convenience-store concept from Seattle-based Amazon—have reordered consumers’ expectations for the retail transaction.

C-store operators’ unease is stark in the latest exclusive research—Era of Disruption: Is Your Business Built for Growth?—from CSP and its sister data firm, Technomic Inc. The study reflects retailers’ attitudes and progress in remaining relevant through a survey of 200 convenience-store executives, as well as one-on-one interviews with 21 company leaders.

Eighty-two percent of responding retailers are concerned about their brand’s relevance today and into the future, with 80% not sure they can keep up, according to Technomic.

“Generationally, we have shifted into an ‘I want it now’ mentality,” said one retailer participant. “It puts unique pressure on the convenience channel.”

At the same time, 82% say they are updating their stores to align with the changing definition of convenience. For example, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven—one of the study’s participants—has a dedicated “store evolution team,” which opened its first lab store earlier this year in Dallas. “Their mission is to break new ground and mold the customer experience of tomorrow by generating viable, innovative ideas, then testing, learning and incorporating them into our store standards,” a spokesperson told CSP.

The disruption study reveals a mix of hope and uncertainty about the c-store industry. Retailers are generally optimistic about store count growth but are unsure if today’s idea of convenience retail will continue to be relevant. Most operators agree that c-stores are evolving but are unsure if those changes fit the times.

That said, they are priming for a fight. Strategies to retain and grow customers include technology such as advanced loyalty programs, ordering kiosks and mobile pickup services. Others include building bigger, brighter stores with more amenities, and becoming more like restaurants with proprietary foodservice.

But throughout the study results, the same nagging question remains: Are these changes enough to keep c-stores relevant?

Return to full Era of Disruption report.

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