onvenience stores have seen relatively few technology advancements over the last 100 years. In most cases, they’ve embraced technology only when necessary. For example, many c-stores lagged behind other retail outlets when it came to accepting digital credit card processing. However, this is rapidly changing as the c-store industry faces an intense wave of technological innovation.
Some changes are a result of natural advancements in technology or shifts in consumer behavior over time. However, the global pandemic has accelerated the technology adoption rate and created a necessity to keep up with other competitors. C-stores that fail to implement cutting-edge technology could fall behind.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major driver in the recent changes to c-store technology. As people changed their commuting habits and looked for safe shopping experiences, many c-stores were forced to adapt and bring new solutions. C-stores weren’t the only ones who had to make this shift. Other business types such as grocery stores and other retailers began offering similar services. This brought c-stores in direct competition with these business types for the first time.
Technology adoption will be a huge hurdle for many c-store operators to overcome. By understanding the challenges and risks, c-store businesses have a better opportunity to avoid costly mistakes.
Over the next 5 years or so, you can expect to see smaller c-store businesses catching up with the technology that has been rolled out by larger brands such as 7Eleven. The lines will continue to be blurred between the in-store experiences with the new digital world.
As technology continues to advance, it’s difficult to predict exactly how the c-store of the future will look. One thing is for sure, the c-store is on a path to be unrecognizable by our grandparents over the next 10-15 years.
Many c-stores will be fully automated by AI systems that track inventory, create promotional ads to target specific customers, and order new products based on recent purchases or customer demands. There will be less thinking done by humans. Companies like Quorso are proposing “agile stores” that provide optimized tasks and instructions to human workers based on a complex algorithm.
“Agile operations are foundational for delivering an omnichannel future. And retail stores need to learn from the agile practices already benefiting eCommerce” RETHINK Retail Report, The Future of Stores
Another trend is the rise of the electric car. Today, more than 80 percent of c-stores sell fuel for automobiles. As more and more vehicles move to electric, c-stores will need to transition from traditional fuel pumps to charging stations. Electric car charging is a bit more time consuming (with the current technology), so c-stores will need to leverage this time by providing virtual kiosks for shopping and amenities like Wi-Fi, lounges, and restrooms.
In the future, customers won’t need to fetch a credit card to make a purchase. Amazon’s Just Walk Out program is testing that very model today where customer’s simply walk out of the store with their purchases and are charged automatically. Some cars may have the consumer’s digital wallet onboard so that purchases are charge from the parking lot. It’s also possible that c-stores could embrace digital currencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum.
Augmented reality could take over as more and more companies entertain the metaverse which will offer immersive digital spaces that consumers could visit from the comfort of their own homes by simply putting on a virtual reality (VR) headset.
No matter what the future holds, c-store operators are in for a wild ride. The most critical step that businesses can take today is to invest in new technology. It’s becoming clearer that traditional c-stores are on track to be a thing of the past.
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Brandon is a professional copywriter who has been producing content for websites, blogs, and other online publications for over 10 years. He specializes in a wide range of topics including business, finance, and travel.