Convenience Stores’ Post-Pandemic Future Will Rely on Tech and Customization

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The future of convenience stores is bright—and it’s built on personalized guest experiences and a rich technology suite.

Gus Olympidis, founder and CEO of Family Express, and Simon Richards, president and CEO of Thorntons, both described a vibrant, personalized and technology-driven future for their brands during a fireside chat discussion at Paytronix Systems’ sixth annual user’s conference, PXUX 2020.

While neither experienced the pandemic-driven devastation wrought across the restaurant landscape, both said the pandemic has been uniquely challenging to their brand. Each had a different theme to their approach. Olympidis focused heavily on new technology, while Richards spoke of the importance of meeting customers where they’re comfortable—but both stressed the importance of adapting with the changing retail environment.

For Family Express, this comes in the form of doubling down on the company’s commitment to creating a frictionless guest experience. Olympidis noted that the technological investments his company has made in reducing friction have coincided nicely with a consumer shift toward contactless options.

“The last two to three years, we’ve been undergoing a journey to reduce friction,” Olympidis explained. “Now, during Covid, we observed almost a migration of consumer interest away from reducing friction, to reducing touch.”

Before year’s end, Olympidis anticipates that Family Express will have launched new smart-pump technology with features like tap-to-scan and the ability to order and pay for food at the pump. The most important aspect of these new technologies, he said, is their ability to integrate in a vast “technology ecosystem” that can adapt to changing priorities, rather than a singular “technology silo.”

“In our view, it also creates an opportunity, because positioning your company in a way that breeds confidence for safety by the consumer perhaps creates a strategic competitive advantage.”

Similarly, Richards described his company’s focus on catering to each guest’s comfort level through a continually evolving guest experience.

“It’s part of our ethos to meet the guest where they are,” Richards said, noting that the company had just made the “wise investment” to revamp its loyalty program shortly before COVID-19 took hold.

For Thorntons, “meeting guests where they are” has meant extending the food menu so that breakfast items are available later, in an effort to adapt to fewer morning commuters. Plus, customers are opting for grab-and-go food items that require minimal human-to-human interaction more often than before.

“I think we’ll end up in some hybrid world,” Richards said. “Our biggest headwind is just trying to call where that equilibrium is going to settle, so we can plan accordingly.”

He added that Thorntons is likely “going to be a lot bolder in changing and progressing and progressing quickly. Our guests have given us that permission, and we’re going to embrace it.”

In spite of the year’s challenges, both CEOs said they see tremendous opportunity ahead and are eager to rise to the challenge.

“We look for opportunity because disruption blossoms opportunity in every occasion. It’s not always glaringly obvious, but the nuggets are out there if you just look for them,” Olympidis said.

This post is sponsored by Paytronix

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