The Mad Dash for Convenience is Fueling C-Store Changes

Tripless Treats and Slipless Receipts

For years, Convenience Stores have fed on consumers’ appetites for instant gratification. That used to be easy with the right stock of gas, beverages, and chips. But lifestyles today are busier and more complex; attitudes about health and wellness are different; and cultural trends overall are reshaping the way we live, shop and eat.

Today’s customers expect more from their shopping experience than ever before – an opportunity that C-stores see as ripe for the picking, beginning with the products they sell.

In the past, convenience simply meant quick and easy, but there’s more to it today.  In response, C-stores have noticeably transformed and evolved beyond processed food favorites to a place where people can grab a salad, some fresh fruits and vegetables, soups, sandwiches, bakery items, and even a fresh bouquet of flowers. 

While the line is blurring between the Grocery and C-store categories, (and even some Restaurants), it’s certain that C-stores are not going away any time soon. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in 2018, convenience stores experienced a 16th straight year of record in-store sales. There are now more than 150,000 convenience stores in the U.S. alone.

Tech-driven, on-the-go lifestyles lead to more time away from home, so people are more likely to dine out instead of preparing time-consuming meals at home. A Zagat survey reported that Americans dine out 4.9 times per week, on average. More and more, C-stores are meeting the demands of these consumers with quick-service restaurant (QSR) options and traditional grocery items for consumers who are pressed for time but still seek quality and convenience.

C-Stores Live Up to Their Name

When it comes to C-store shopping, “convenience” is still the drawing card. Millennials especially are looking for quick, small-basket trips versus filling up a cart at a traditional grocery store. As reported in a 2018 Convenience Store News study that polled 492 millennials, 16 percent said they visit a convenience store daily, which is 5 percent higher than any other generational group. One of this industry’s biggest assets is the time it saves customers, who spend an average of 3 minutes, 33 seconds for their purchase, from the moment they leave their car to when they return, according to NACS. C-stores are perfectly positioned to do what they do best – be convenient.  

Grocers Push Convenience

At the same time, traditional grocers are putting new forms of convenience front and center in their stores. Many now offer options such as prepared, ready-to-eat food items, delivery, BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in-store), and more. Amazon-owned Whole Foods recently opened The Whole Foods Daily Market Shop in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood as its first grab-n-go convenience-style store. But that’s just the beginning. Amazon is currently launching Amazon Go, a small-format Grocery/C-store where people can pick up a quick meal, snack or drink without waiting in line to check out. The Amazon Go app will simply charge your account and send a receipt. 

The Future of Convenience

To keep up with future needs and continue to drive consumers to their locations, C-stores who wish to succeed will need to:

Improve Food Service Operations. Food will continue to represent the biggest opportunity for in-store sales, so quality and options will be critical along with how foods are visually promoted at point of sale.

Maintain Relevance. Continue to fulfill immediate consumption needs with convenient locations, accessibility, and ease of shopping.

Update / Refresh. Create a store that makes people want to shop, stay, and come back. Provide clean stores and restrooms, along with well-thought-out signage and store layouts.  

Deepen Customer Satisfaction. Upgrade your store offerings, start a loyalty program, source local products, and introduce new items regularly.

Embrace Technology. Utilize digital engagement to influence buying decisions and promote products. Offer mobile or self-checkout options and delivery.

Enhance the Experience. Designate space for social engagement (think coffee shop) for people to relax, eat, or meet up with others. Be friendly and welcoming to your customers.

Consumers are willing to pay more at a C-store than they would at a Grocery store because they view them as different experiences. Finding the right balance between the two and gaining loyal customers will be the sweet spot to success.