War for Convenience: Creating an Experience

Speed is paramount, but many c-store customers are open to dine-in seating and special events

CHICAGO -- While speed and ease of purchase are central to what consumers want from c-stores, particularly with regard to coffee, snacks and grab-and-go items, c-store customers are open to on-site experiences.

A majority (64%) of consumers, including 77% of millennials, agree that they’d be somewhat or very likely to appreciate dine-in seating or a special event—be it a wine or food tasting or some other activity—at their local or primary c-store if it were offered. Take York, Pa.-based Rutter’s, which earlier this year debuted wine tasting with food parings at various locations.

How appealing would dine-in seating or events such as food tastings or offering coffee or adult beverages while shopping be if offered at your preferred c-store?

Other brick-and-mortar retailers have employed experiential opportunities to stay relevant with customers, with recent examples including grocery stores with food-court formats and banks experimenting with small coffee shops.

However, the study also says c-store retailers should consider their core customers and what would resonate with them. For example, more consumers in urban areas (38%) than in small towns or rural areas (23%) indicated strong interest in dine-in seating or attending special events at c-stores.

While experiential opportunities seem tied to sophisticated foodservice offers, there are also opportunities to enhance the traditional CPG side of the store with tech.

For example, 7-Eleven this past spring tied an augmented reality (AR) promotion to the release of “Deadpool 2.” Customers used their cellphones and the 7-Eleven app to follow the movie’s main character through store aisles, where he unlocked secret activities and rewards.

“We were able to let our customers engage with our brand differently.”

“At 7-Eleven, we strive to give customers a differentiated experience inside and outside of our stores,” Gurmeet Singh, chief digital officer and CIO for 7-Eleven Inc., Irving, Texas, told CSP Daily News. “As one of the first national c-store retailers that has integrated AR into its loyalty program, we were able to let our customers engage with our brand differently than they had with any others in our industry.”

 How likely would you be to use charging stations for electronic devices at dine-in areas?

The in-store experience at c-stores is undergoing fundamental change, with new builds having more amenities, expanded foodservice and, often, seating areas and charging stations. Donna Hood Crecca, principal of CSP's sister research firm Technomic, cites this “dual utility” phenomenon, in which c-stores are becoming known both for their speed and ease of shopping but also as an opportunity to sit and stay awhile.

“We’re seeing that dual use as an interest factor across several of our studies,” she says. “Especially as Gen Z goes into adulthood. They want that opportunity with a c-store.”

Even though the Technomic study offers no magic bullet for retailers facing an onslaught of digital change, those making active decisions with an understanding of what their consumers want today and in the future will have an edge if they focus on enhancing the five core factors: delivery, payment, speed, staying competitive with grocery and the customer experience.

How likely is it that you would use Wi-Fi if it were offered?

And at its base, convenience stores still provide a foundational offer: immediate consumables, Crecca says. “The industry is undergoing dynamic change, but the customer still has a need for the on-the-go solution, be it planned or impulse,” she says.

Next: To Deliver, or Not to Deliver?

Click here to read the complete War for Convenience report.

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