The traditional competitive advantage for convenience stores (C-stores) is right there in the name: convenience. But the nature of convenience is changing, and the entire market, particularly the fuel retailing sub-sector, is facing significant disruption. New trends and entrants are redefining both customer convenience and operating models.
For example, the rapid onset of local delivery services has introduced competition from retailers not previously associated with the convenience space and forcing the C-store industry to transform and differentiate. Customer experience is at the heart of this transformation, driven by innovative digital solutions that require robust connectivity and network security.
We are currently seeing two primary factors driving change in the C-store market. First is the overall shift in customer behavior and explosive growth of e-commerce over the past several years. Second is the increasing adoption of electric vehicles. While these two factors may not be inherently related, they both carry the potential to reshape the C-store as we know it today.
Frictionless convenience: The desire for low-friction, no-contact, and connected customer experiences, as well as competition from same-day home delivery services, are changing service models and increasing the number of digital touchpoints. 37% of consumers consider a consistent and seamless cross-channel customer experience an essential factor in their purchase decisions, according to IDC’s Global Retail Operating Models Survey, 2022.
EV transition: New electric vehicle registrations grew 250% over the last five years and accounted for 5.7% of all new vehicle registrations in the U.S. for Q2 2022, according to Experian’s Automotive Consumer Trends Report: Q2 2022. As electric vehicles become more popular, customer foot traffic and revenue generated both related to gas and oil transactions are likely to decline. At the same time, potentially longer stop-and-charge visits will create new opportunities for deeper customer engagement and richer connected experiences at C-stores.
Customers have more choices than ever regarding how and where they buy the kinds of products traditionally found in C-stores, making it less about the products themselves and more about the shopping experience. To differentiate themselves from other retailers, C-stores can turn to digital tools and technologies that support immersive and connected experiences both in-store and out.
Drive meaningful engagement: Personalized offers, loyalty programs, and in-store digital signage can create tailored customer experiences and help keep C-store brands top of mind.
Deliver rich media experiences: Streaming entertainment at gas pumps engages customers for only a few minutes, but longer stop-and-charge visits open the possibility for new streaming formats and more engaging content delivered via customers’ devices.
Offer more ways to buy: Contactless self-checkouts, mobile ordering, digital payments, and home delivery are all ways C-stores can cater to the diverse shopping demands of customers.
Customer experience can seem like a front-of-house function, but it’s actually built on numerous back-of-house processes and systems that can free up staff to focus on customers. When creating the foundation to support next-generation connected experiences, C-stores should look closely at optimizing these areas:
Supply chain: While the products sold at a C-store may not be the differentiating factor they once were, the availability of those products remains important. Digital tools can streamline and provide greater visibility into supply chain operations, helping maintain a reliable stock of in-demand items.
Inventory management: Smart shelving, supply room sensors, and cloud-based POS systems can help transition inventory management from a manual process to one more connected and efficient.
Security: More digital touchpoints mean more potential entry points for cybersecurity threats. It’s essential to have a solution that can support secure communication between locations, help protect data at endpoints, and detect real-time threats like network intrusions and DDoS attacks.
All the connected experiences and digital processes that make up a differentiated customer experience have one thing in common: the network. Whether connecting customer devices in-store, communicating between multiple locations, or processing transaction data, a fast, reliable network can create a competitive advantage for C-stores. Here are some of the technologies that are reshaping the C-store network.
Business WiFi: In addition to providing convenient internet connectivity for customers, a reliable WiFi network can help power a variety of critical functions, including IoT sensors, digital signage, ordering kiosks, and cloud-based POS systems.
SD-WAN: Centralized, integrated management of network functions allows for simplified control over multiple locations or franchises and more scalable network policy control.
LoRaWAN: Traveling long distances and penetrating walls and objects, LoRaWAN transmits data and can provide simultaneous IoT device firmware updates with less demand on WiFi networks.
Managed security: Managed router and firewall, Unified Threat Management, and DDoS detection can help shield against a rapidly changing state of cyber threats and ease the burden on internal security and IT teams.
At Comcast Business, we are partnering with convenience store retailers to drive an evolution of what convenience stores can be through our unique combination of technology capabilities. Learn more about how Comcast Business can help.