Significant transformations are taking place within the fuel and convenience retail industry, resulting in convenience stores rethinking how to handle operations during this period of transformation. Consumer needs and expectations look different than they did even just a few years ago — with an increased focus on convenience, speed and value. As a result, retailers are modifying their operations to keep up with the evolving landscape — changes that will continue to shape the industry for years to come. In order to get ahead of the competition and prepare for what’s to come, there are a few key areas convenience retailers should prioritize.
Lean Into Digital Solutions to Improve Customer Loyalty
Historically, the convenience store industry has been a laggard in adopting digital tools to improve front- and back-end operations. However, the pandemic accelerated the need for convenience retailers to implement digital solutions that improve the customer experience, including delivery services, mobile ordering capabilities, loyalty programs, and back-end management tools that increase efficiency and decrease the impact of the labor shortage. By recognizing the importance of the consumer journey from start to finish, convenience retailers are better positioned to improve customer loyalty.
Given the come-and-go nature of the convenience store experience, nailing down repeat customers isn’t always easy and requires a well-thought-out loyalty strategy. Focusing on proper marketing, strong app design, and attractive reward programs should be top priorities for convenience retailers. By focusing on connecting with the consumer and understanding their evolving wants and needs, convenience retailers can increase revenue and customer loyalty. However, operators also need to realize that execution must occur at the local level. Program design and technology are insufficient by themselves to motivate consumers. Instead, operators need local teams to drive positive outcomes by delivering a complete consumer experience.
Convenience operators should also look to utilize data to inform their decision making. Having an accurate understanding of consumer purchasing patterns and preferences allows c-stores to improve loyalty strategies, identify areas to improve workflow, and increase customer traffic. Loyalty programs such as GasBuddy, a PDI Technologies company, utilize consumer data to provide recommendations on the cheapest gas prices, allowing users to save on every gallon. These kinds of programs provide benefits to both gas stations and consumers by utilizing consumer insights to help inform business strategies and new implementations.
Refine the Customer Experience
Finding a way to connect with new and existing customers shopping at convenience stores is key to increasing revenue and repeat shoppers. This may include marketing campaigns and advertisements throughout the store that highlight bargains and deals or loyalty apps that track customer data and purchase patterns. By recognizing the psychology of the convenience consumer, which oftentimes is driven by price rather than brand, convenience retailers will have an easier time reaching consumers and encouraging them to be repeat customers.
Avoid Introducing Security Risks When Adopting New Technology
As convenience retailers implement new technological solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to improve their customer relationships, they can inadvertently increase the risk of security breaches. The adoption of technologies such as self-checkout and consumer loyalty program apps have broadened the potential points of vulnerability, which requires a response from convenience retailers to protect their systems and data.
Convenience retailers need to consider these risks and implement a viable threat response strategy before a cyberattack takes place. Being proactive reduces the chances of a security breach impacting the business or customers. Convenience retailers should identify their current tools and processes and detect any gaps or vulnerabilities. During the process of evolving technological offerings, it’s imperative to simultaneously assess security posture to ensure that businesses are well-positioned to handle a breach.
View Electric Vehicles as an Opportunity, Not a Threat
The convenience industry’s role in the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is fairly misunderstood, as the adoption of electric vehicles is often considered a threat to the sector. Despite this misconception, the increase in the adoption of electric vehicles is actually an opportunity for the industry, given the fact that charge times are decreasing and charging stations are being implemented at more and more convenience store locations across the country. This creates an opportunity to attract new customers and improve current offerings, such as becoming more sophisticated food service destinations with dine-in seating options and other amenities for customers to utilize as they wait for their vehicles to charge.
The convenience retail industry is embarking on a period of rapid change. Those that adopt technological solutions that improve the customer experience will be best positioned to optimize new revenue opportunities in the future.
Linnea Geiss is the chief operating officer at PDI Technologies, a provider of powerful solutions and insights that serve as the backbone of the convenience retail and petroleum wholesale ecosystem.
Linnea joined PDI in 2018 and brings over 15 years of global experience spanning operations, investing, strategy and corporate development. Linnea oversees all product management and professional services operations and is responsible for developing and executing strategies and offerings to drive growth and competitive positioning across global markets.
Prior to joining PDI, Linnea served as an independent adviser to several private equity firms and management teams. She also spent several years in operating roles with Radiant Systems, as a venture capitalist with Arcapita and most recently served as head of Strategy and Corporate Development for NCR Corporation. Linnea is actively involved in the Atlanta community and serves on the Board of Directors for Venture Atlanta and re:Imagine/ATL.