The Rise of C-Stores

As consumers embrace convenience, a new set of challenges arises
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LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. — In the United States, today’s convenience stores are far different than what they were in the past. Not long ago, c-stores were primarily used only for small, infrequent purchases, while groceries and major household products were bought during weekly trips to larger retail and grocery stores.

However, as changing shopper habits and the pandemic have altered the U.S retail landscape, the function of c-stores has expanded beyond just a quick stop for a newspaper and bottled beverages. By evolving to offer a diverse range of products and services, c-stores have become a viable alternative for consumers to purchase essential everyday items. Similarly as c-stores continue to grow as a shopping destination, integrating the use of technology into the stores’ internal processes will enable them to expand their business capabilities.

New Normal

Originally, c-stores served as small neighborhood grocers before the rise of supermarkets. Gradually, consumer behavior shifted in the other direction, with more preferring convenience and value over larger grocery trips. There is also a generational component to this, as research shows that millennials are shifting their at-home dining behaviors with a preference for ready-to-eat foods and making fewer trips to the grocery store. This has resulted in an industry shift, as larger markets like Amazon/Whole Foods and Walmart have evolved to meet this consumer demand with the creation of new convenience formats such as Amazon Go and Walmart Neighborhood Market.

The coronavirus pandemic has only added more fuel to the fire. C-stores were among the few essential businesses allowed to remain open when economies shutdown due to stay-at-home orders. Many consumers started to favor stores closer to their homes with smaller crowds, creating a prime opportunity for c-stores to thrive.

Moving forward, the rise of c-stores appears to be here to stay. However, this new era presents a different set of challenges that require innovation. As this evolution continues, business owners need to develop proactive strategies to meet increased inventory demands, satisfy rising customer expectations and streamline their operational efficiency, three key components of maximizing profit potential.

Thread the Needle

That’s where advanced technology helps thread the needle. From providing actionable insights on inventory needs to keeping associates focused on the right tasks, advanced analytics can play an essential role for attaining continued retail success.

In light of COVID-19, inventory management has become increasingly complex due to unprecedented demand fluctuations. These have amplified the need for stores to remain agile to adjust to changing inventory trends on the fly, linking planning with execution in real-time. With an advanced analytics solution, owners can make data-driven inventory decisions based on historical demand, sales trends, consumer preferences, store location and seasonality to align shelves, assortments, promotions and store layouts with future demand.

These solutions and their actionable insights also help c-store owners make the most of the resources at hand. From a labor perspective, c-stores often don’t have huge staffs and typically only use one or two employees at any given time.

With so little labor, an advanced analytics solution will allow retailers to delegate the most important tasks to ensure employees are efficiently allocating their time to added value tasks. This includes scheduled tasks that consist of routine responsibilities (general store upkeep, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, managing cash registers) and “smart” tasks that are derived from data analysis. For example, when a popular item stops selling, the solution is to flag it and notify a manager, based on stock-on-hand, lead time and other measures, so he or she can quickly restock the shelf to avoid missed sales. The notification is considered a smart task.

The evolution of the c-store reflects a new wave of opportunity for the U. S retail sector. With the implementation of advanced technology, store owners can make the necessary adjustments to navigate the changing industry landscape of inventory performance and customer satisfaction to grow their profits and margins.

Guy Yehiav is general manager and vice president of Zebra Prescriptive Analytics, Lincolnshire, Ill.

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