ATLANTA — “We are in a world where the shopper is in charge and a lot of our traditional strengths are disappearing,” said Michael Sansolo, research director of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council.
Sansolo brought up product selection as a past strength for some convenience stores. “Well, forget that one,” he said. “We’ve all heard of this little company called Amazon.” He also cited location and a well-designed shopper experience as other details that are no longer as heavily in demand now that those needs can be met in new, high-tech ways.
However, Sansolo also offered a vision of the future for brick-and-mortar retailers during an education session at the 2019 NACS Show in Atlanta. Click through for the research council's take on the store of the future and tips on how c-store operators can one day make it happen …
Internet of everything
Sansolo took the audience through a video illustrating what he thought a typical consumer journey might look like by about the year 2030—or perhaps sooner. The immediate theme of the video was the obsequiousness of everyday items that connect to the internet, known as the internet of things.
The video began at the consumer’s home as the counters and tabletops of the kitchens generated screens. The subject of the video made her shopping list on the countertop screen, which immediately transferred to her smart glasses. As she entered the store, the store’s built-in artificial intelligence (AI) streamed product choices to her smart device as she approached the bakery and other sections of the store. The store even made recommendations of wine and other beverages as she passed shelves with those products.
The human touch
If anything, human employees were even more important in Sansolo’s video than they are in stores today. “All of this automation doesn’t mean we’re done with humans,” he said. “We have to figure out how to maximize our humans.”
The video illustrated this by showing the store manager greeting the video’s subject at the door when she entered. The video also showed technology assisting the manager with customer service. For instance, an alert went to the manager in the video to inform him that the subject was spending a lot of time in one area and that she might need help. The manager in the video made his way over to her to make suggestions.
General Motors, Ford, BMW and others are adding Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, to cars, and this will revolutionize the way people shop as they travel, Sansolo said. He said finding a gas station could be as simply as hopping in the car and saying, “Alexa, tell me where the best gas station is … cheapest price.”
“You as convenience stores are going to want to be part of that environment,” Sansolo said. That means making sure stores are properly displayed on online listings such as Google and GasBuddy. He also pointed out that Alexa is already integrating itself into consumers' lives and that their expectations of their retail experiences will change as technology continues to advance.
After showing the video illustrating the store of the future, Sansolo quipped, “If you’re my age group, you probably watched that and thought, ‘That’s a little creepy.’ ” But he said people his son’s age would think differently.
He also advocated for a more forward-looking mindset among decision-makers working for c-stores. “You don’t want a bunch of 55-year-olds,” he said. “You want two or three 23-year-olds to tell you how ancient you’ve become.”
The struggle of experience
Sansolo argued that the advancements in retail illustrated in the video are not technology for technology’s sake. Rather, they are there to make customers feel appreciated. “People remember experiences,” Sansolo said.
That said, making those seemingly magical experiences happen will not be easy. “We have to be more than we have ever been before,” Sansolo said, but he encouraged attendees to look at one or two ways they could make the shopping experience better and more special for their customers instead of trying to execute on every detail of the store of the future at once.