eeping up with evolving industry trends is a constant challenge for convenience stores. Yet, as a chief driver of change in the 21st century, technology is proving to be an essential part of convenience shopping across the globe.
By finding ways to adjust, c-stores have demonstrated their adaptability, especially under the harsh industry conditions occurring since the global pandemic hit in 2020. Below we discover how convenience stores are using technology to their advantage and how technology continues to change the c-store industry!
C-stores around the world have used technology to their advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. As customer expectations have changed, so have c-stores. To help keep people safe and reduce viral transmission during the pandemic, contactless payments and self-checkouts have now become normalized.
This trend is definitely here to stay and makes cash look positively ancient. Even the smallest stores now offer this payment option. Contactless could evolve even further through checkout-free shopping and c-stores like Amazon Go.
Relying on cameras and sensors to track what customers take from the shelves, shoppers are billed online once they leave the store. This would allow for completely contact-free shopping and is certainly a feasible future for c-stores.
Although the pandemic has hit many businesses hard, convenience stores have a bright future ahead because they are clearly so innovative and adaptable to consumer demands and worldwide concerns
Another tech innovation we have seen throughout the pandemic is red and green light systems. These are in place to keep customer numbers down in stores allowing for social distancing. While they seem unlikely to stay as a permanent feature when the pandemic ends, light systems could return if COVID cases spike again.
On a similar note, home deliveries have helped convenience stores immensely during the pandemic. While home deliveries aren’t normally associated with convenience stores, many have been using this digital format to reach more shoppers. Even local corner shops are offering home delivery by partnering with companies like Uber Eats.
During the pandemic, customers were limited as to where they could shop. So, home deliveries have been vital in overcoming this issue. With the click of a few buttons, customers can order their weekly shop from the comfort of their own home. This trend will only become more popular as time goes on and home delivery is expected as a minimum service requirement.
Sustainability is an industry buzzword right now. With concerns over climate change rising, stores are visibly becoming eco-friendlier and adapting their previous technological ideas to suit this.
Take fridge doors as an example. Although open fridges were devised to allow shoppers easy access to products, c-stores are beginning to re-think their motives.
According to Business Waste, stores use over 1.5 million kWh of energy per year with around 60-70% of that energy being used on fridges. Simply, by installing doors on their fridges, many c-stores have saved themselves thousands in energy bills and helped the planet.
Lots of customers are also choosing where they shop based on schemes like recycling programs, paper bags, and reduced plastic packaging. This highlights the importance of eco-friendliness for shoppers. As Jeff Fromm from CMO Network suggests, “If a store aligns with your values, makes you feel safe and offers the products you need, you will go out of your way to buy the exact same gallon of gas or the exact same candy bar that you could have gotten at any other c-store along the road”.
A lot of convenience stores are located in gas stations, so they are ideal sites for electric vehicle charging facilities. Although only around 2% of the cars on our roads are electric, convenience stores are taking the opportunity to install electric charging stations and reaping the benefits.
Customers need somewhere to relax while their car is charging. By locating stations on roads where long trips are expected, the customer is more likely to go inside the store to unwind and shop while they wait.
This method is particularly popular in Norway where around 85% of cars are electric. Here, the multi-national financial investment company Morgan Stanley predicts that electric charging stations will “boost station retail sites by 10-20%”. As more cars become electric, this c-store trend will only grow!
Another key issue for c-stores yet to be fully tackled is food waste. As well as filling up landfill sites, wasted food produces high levels of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – which contributes to climate change.
Applications like Too Good To Go are taking the c-store game by storm and trying to solve this issue. These apps allow retailers to dispose of food that is close to its best-end date by listing it on the app and selling it at a discounted price.
The average price of a bag of food from the app is £3.50. This makes the food app trend extremely beneficial for both the customer and the c-stores who are throwing away tons less of waste because of this approach.
It is telling that convenience stores across the UK have doubled the number of meals they’ve saved through their partnership with Too Good To Go in less than two months. This is a very promising sign for food waste apps which are on course for a significant gain in popularity.
Finally, the drive for healthy foods in c-stores is at an all-time high in 2021. With people constantly on the go for work and travel beginning to start up again, convenient food has become very appealing to the masses.
But, with the pandemic making people more health conscious, we are seeing an emphasis on nutritious food to boost our immune systems as opposed to the common junk foods found in c-stores like fries, burgers, and pies that we have seen in the past. This means that c-stores have had to adapt their inventory, now offering a range of healthy snacks like sushi and salads.
Another issue for grab-and-go foods in c-stores during the pandemic was the idea that exposed food could increase likelihood of transmitting the virus. For instance, pastries, baguettes, and cakes had to be sealed rather than placed on food stands like they would have been before. But c-stores have quickly adapted by adding sealed packaging to their food which will undoubtedly continue until we have safer COVID levels.
One trend that c-stores are using to drive sales is to put their grab-and-go foods in warming carts or coolers near to their checkout areas. This helps to catch the customers attention and makes them more likely to buy healthy products. This trend seems like it will continue after the pandemic in order to keep up with the large and competitive retailers.
Although the pandemic has hit many businesses hard, convenience stores have a bright future ahead because they are clearly so innovative and adaptable to consumer demands and worldwide concerns. At the end of the day, all of these retail technology trends represent a wider vision in the industry to change for the better and meet the changing and growing desires of consumers.
Customers want to see c-stores evolving to suit their needs and will leave the ones that don’t behind. So, it will be very interesting in the future to see which 2021 c-store trends continue, which tail off, and new trends that are to come.
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Kerrie creates web content in a number of venues. He specializes in researching business and technology affairs and putting pen to paper.