Amid this, power has shifted to the shopper, Lori Buss Stillman, vice president of research for NACS, said at the association’s virtual Crack the Code Experience.
“They hold the controls, and it’s almost as if competition and the landscape has been completely upended,” Stillman said. “But not by things we don’t know. As we look around, what’s really changing the landscape are the things that have been here for quite some time. Consumers are simply adopting them more quickly now than ever before.”
Although Stillman can’t predict exactly what post-pandemic recovery will look like, c-stores have the characteristics and strengths to come out on top, like a streamlined assortment, mastering of the dayparts and community engagement.
“I’m not sure what recovery will look like, but what I do believe is that there is no channel better poised to lead the recovery of retail than the convenience channel,” she said.
There are five areas c-stores can focus on right to cater to the ever-changing needs of consumers. Here’s Stillman’s breakdown of each:
Future of payments
People are increasingly using their credit or debit cards for small transactions and, eventually, contactless payments will overtake cash, Stillman said.
“The reality is, consumers don’t want to carry cash,” she said. “You can’t count on people slipping back to using cash the way they did in the pre-pandemic era; it simply isn’t going to happen.”
Some card companies are coming out with solutions for households who don’t have a bank, which could help a huge section of customers who c-stores serve, Stillman said.
Shopper loyalty and engagement
Data right now can serve a couple of different roles for c-stores, Stillman said. Looking at the current data c-stores have can tell retailers how shopping behaviors have changed and what opportunities are arising as a result.
Leveraging this data to refine assortment and meet new consumer demands will ignite an element of growth in c-stores' business, Stillman said.
Thinking differently about store design
How do retailers capture impulse buys through walk-up window and drive-thru services? Retailers need to get creative, like putting a display kiosk outside that prompts consumers to buy products they wouldn’t have otherwise remembered, Stillman said.
Retailers also need to emphasize to consumers the safety and sanitation measures that have been put in place amid the pandemic.
Finally, as social distancing has forced c-stores to rip out tables and create space in their buildings, c-stores now need to better integrate social separation into seating and queue areas in a way that’s more aesthetic, she said.
C-stores need to find space for multipacks and essential grocery items as consumers are turning more to them for these items, Stillman said.
“How do you carry ambient temperature products? And what might you need to take out or adjust in your store footprint to accommodate those items, as well as core grocery items?” Stillman said.
C-stores can also plan for recession-friendly offerings and emphasize store brands as unemployment in the country remains high.
“Are you thinking of store brands, knowing that in recent years we’ve seen the quality of store brands increase immensely and they’re more frequently in the consume considerations than ever before?” Stillman said.
Playing on connectedness
C-stores need to lean on the role they play in communities, Stillman said.
“We’re living right now in this incredibly digital time and what we don’t have in all of these digital exchanges is the ability to reach out and get that human connection,” she said.
C-stores can be that friendly face or provide a different space to work. As places start to open more, consider how to provide opportunities for people to gather, Stillman said.