CSP Magazine

Opinion: Participant Vs. Spectator

C-stores are in a great position for humanizing the shopping experience

Earlier this year, our sales team was exploring ways to celebrate recent successes with our customers. The old-school sales veterans immediately defaulted to the idea of a ballgame, while our newer, millennial team was thinking very differently. They suggested an  interactive dining experience with multiple courses, beverage pairings and visits from the chef.

They wanted action over passivity—to be the subject, not the spectator. And this idea won the day with our young customer group.

This concept of the experience vs. the “witness” event seems to define the changing marketplace. A recent study by Eventbrite revealed that 78% of millennials would choose to spend money on an experience or event over buying a physical product. The data shows that they are spending more on life experiences than ever before.

With this in mind, products, brands and retailers that can tap into this new “experience economy” may have the best grasp on the future.

Gravitating to Local

The thirst for an interactive, immersive brand experience is perhaps nowhere better seen than in the exploding beer industry.

There are now 7,000 brewers in the United States, the most in recorded history, and the “brewing experience” is driving much of this growth, with significant consumer interest in how and where beers are made.

“Beer drinkers have always gravitated toward brands and brewers that they feel emotionally connected to,” says industry expert Bump Williams, CEO of Bump Williams Consulting. “More than ever, though, they want to understand who the brewer is, the story behind the brand, the ingredients and genuineness of the brewer’s process.”

Pointing to 2017 brewer and retailer strategies that focus on the consumer demand for local and desire to know a brand’s story, Williams takes a philosophical approach to what is driving the proliferation of brewers, brands and styles: “Maybe it is with the understanding that the beer is made by real people—perhaps your neighbors, people you see every single day going to work, or that live in your hometown. It humanizes the experience.”

Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why,” proposes that ultimately everything is a human interaction. All sales transactions—be it between distributors, retailers or consumers—are people buying stuff from people. It begins and ends with people.

As the most-shopped channel, c-stores are in a great position for humanizing the shopping experience. Daily contact with more than 160 million Americans, one person at a time, fulfilling basic needs for fuel, food, drink and other necessities 24 hours a day, is a huge opportunity to meet that desire for active experiences and connections.

Look at REI, where the outdoor experience comes to life. The knowledge of the store associates shines like a beacon of experience and expertise, which makes REI a trusted choice for consumers when they seek outdoor-adventure supplies.

Consider It Ironic

E-commerce, drone deliveries, self-checkout and new Amazon stores [CSP—Feb. ’17, p. 28] are where consumers can shop and never have to look anyone in the eye or even come in contact with another human. There is not a lot of “experiential” human interaction going on with these transactions. Human contact can be the c-store point of difference.

Perhaps the growth in c-store foodservice validates that the industry continues to be on the right track by zeroing in on products that are enhanced by a human touch.

As “America’s neighborhood store,” c-stores are clearly in a position to make each customer’s trip a great part of their daily experience.

In reality, it’s a challenge to deliver an “experience” in a high-speed convenience environment. The key is to create ways for consumers to identify themselves as part of experiences that are meaningful to them.

Investing in local activities, whether it be sampling, local charities or neighborhood events, is more relevant than ever in this environment.

In light of technological disruptors, we must continue to look for ways to enhance the neighborhood shopping experience. Seeking ways to make it easier for the folks who work in our stores may mean we allow people do what they do best in being a great neighbor, 24/7.

Joe Vonder Haar is CEO and founding partner of iSee Store Innovations LLC. Reach him at joev@iseeinnovation.com.

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