ATLANTA — The last 100 days have reshaped the world. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc and forced countless businesses around the globe to switch their focus from expansion to survival.
Although the impact of the pandemic varies from business to business, almost all industries are being affected. The convenience and fuel retail industry are no exception. Apart from setting up business continuity plans and conducting financial stress tests, retailers around the world have to make numerous decisions in an environment that changes daily.
If you’re a convenience or fuel retailer, the actions you take (or don’t take) now to weather the storm while serving your community and protecting your employees can have a long-lasting impact on your business.
Here are a few considerations you should make to ensure your brand emerges from this crisis stronger and better.
Knowing what your customers want
Panic-buying has always been a phenomenon observed in times of crisis. This time, countless shoppers hit the stores when the first signs of the pandemic emerged. As the supply-chain slowly stabilizes, how can you be sure you know and have what your customers need? Helpful hint: It’s not just toilet paper.
Consumer preferences have undoubtedly changed since the start of the pandemic. And it shows in some of the trends we’re seeing from regions around world. For example, a weekly report on consumer behavior across convenience stores in the United States shows that trips are down, but spend per transaction is up. Also, certain categories, such as tobacco and alcohol, are performing incredibly well, while others such as foodservice are lagging behind.
Basket-level transaction data can provide actionable insights like the ones above to help you meet localized demand, improve store-level sales, inventory and category management.
Attracting and retaining consumers
Engaging with your customers can be challenging, especially with mandated shelter-in-place policies and social distancing. Nonetheless, you still need to convince consumers to visit your store or order online. This is where a good marketing strategy can help. Connecting loyalty, customer communication, mobile technology and data insights to build a holistic marketing strategy helps ensure consumers are getting the experience they want with a retailer through every touchpoint.
Compared to non-members, loyalty members are more likely to make an in-store purchase each time they fuel their vehicle; they also tend to spend more per store visit. And with a significant part of the workforce working from home and taking significantly fewer trips to your store, this matters a lot.
Consider personalized offers to increase engagement and wallet share. A 100% markup on disinfecting tissues might seem profitable in the short term, but will likely not be appreciated by your customers, and it will be remembered. On the other hand, offering your customers value and convenience in times of utmost need will be appreciated, remembered and rewarded with repeat business.
Keeping customers and employees safe
The health of your employees and customers should be a top priority for you, so take precautions.
Maybe it’s time to invest in sneeze guards for your manned check-out counters, or consider providing disposable gloves at the pump. The latter is something fuel retailers in Germany did, even before the pandemic, to protect people’s skin from potential fuel splashes. Given the current circumstances, not having to touch the nozzle with their bare hands would likely be a relief to most drivers.
You could also increase in-store cleaning. Adjust the duties of your staff to include more frequent cleaning of surfaces. And it’s never a bad idea to talk with your employees, listen to their concerns and suggestions, and explain to both your customers and employees how and why you’re taking steps to ensure their health and well-being.
Many of these new measures will probably remain in place even after the restrictions are lifted, as everybody is reassessing their approach to hygiene and social distancing.
Actions of charity and solidarity
From offering free delivery services to the elderly and other at-risk groups, to providing free coffee or fuel to healthcare workers, every small act of solidarity tells your community they’re not alone. All over the world, convenience retailers are stepping up to support their communities and boosting their reputation in the process.
To name a few bright examples, Applegreen provides free fuel to Blood Bike Leinster volunteers; EG Group offers a free, hot beverage every day to NHS workers and recently made a significant donation to their local hospital charity in the U.K.; and Chevron is working with global partners to provide medical supplies to hospitals in Thailand.
No matter what you decide to do at your stores, remember that people are watching. In a world that is digitally connected, good actions and wise decisions can go a long way in helping your business survive during the crisis and thrive long after it’s over.
Drew Mize joined PDI in 2016. He oversees global product management for all retail and wholesale products and services, portfolio convergence and hardware technology. Prior to PDI, he was with Pinnacle for 11 years, serving multiple roles and was president at the time of PDI’s acquisition. Before Pinnacle, hew was vice president of TMI Services Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, for 10 years, where he led the c-store technology division. Mize is currently the chairman of the NACS Supplier board of directors and is also a member of the NACS board.