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Industry Innovation

The Future of C-Stores: Store Layouts

New C-Store Design Trends are Yielding Upmarket C-Stores

Graphic representation of c-store exterior

ew consumer trends and demands are emerging that are forcing convenience store operators to rethink the design and layout of their stores.  In the past, c-stores were relatively simple with a traditional grid layout.  Most stores aimed to squeeze as many products into their small store footprint as possible.  The goal was to simply get customers in and out.  

More and more consumers are now demanding a higher-end shopping experience.  They expect to see upscale stores that are visually appealing and stock high-quality, specialty products such as healthy food options, artisan coffee, even craft beers.  C-stores that once had a basic design are being equipped with top-of-the-line equipment and welcoming layouts to maximize traffic and sales.  C-store operators need to understand and adapt to these new pressures in order to avoid losing market share to another trendy brand.  

Drivers of Upmarket C-Store Design & Layout

Customer experience is the single biggest factor that is driving trends in consumer behavior and demands.  In an increasingly digital world, consumers have easy and convenient access to most of the products that convenience stores offer.  With so many options, the way consumers feel when interacting with a brand will be what sets one company apart from another.  

Health-Conscious Consumers – C-stores have a traditionally bad reputation when it comes to offering healthy foods.  Many brands have begun offering more fresh food options.  Alltown Fresh is leading this space by making this a focus for their 300 c-stores.  They have been able to generate an incredible 75% of its revenue from fresh foods (compared to 10% for average c-stores).  

Specialty Products – Consumers expect to see specialty products on c-store shelves including plant-based, gluten free, and locally-sourced options.  They also want to be able to find products that you would normally see in a traditional grocery store like meat and cheese without the hassle of navigating a 70,000 square foot space.

Community Feeling – In the age of e-commerce mega-brands like Amazon, consumers want to shop in an environment that supports and reflects their local community.

Changing Demographics – The demographics of people visiting c-stores is shifting.  Millennials, for example, spend an average of $10-$15 each week in a c-store. Younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z expect to see high-quality products and have a shopping experience that embraces technology.  

Current Situation with C-store Design & Layout

The average convenience store has a sales floor of only 2,425 square feet. This means that c-store operators must be thoughtful about how they utilize their space.  The ultimate goal is to create a space that gets consumers to spend the most amount of time in their store.  

  • New Shelving Layouts – Many c-stores are exploring shelving layouts that deviate from the traditional grid pattern.  Diagonally placed shelves, for example, provide a better flow through the space and maximize the amount of product space available in the store.  Open spaces at the entrance can help the store feel bigger.  
  • High-End Finishes – Some c-stores are upscaling the feel of their stores by incorporating high-end finishes such as wood and stainless steel.
  • Special Amenities – Brands are beginning to offer special amenities to their customers.  For example, 7-Eleven installed 500 electric vehicle charging stations at its stores to attract affluent customers.  Other brands have created artisan coffee bars to steal customers who make daily visits to a local coffee shop.  
  • Behavior-Based Design – Some companies are designing their space based on consumer behavior.  For example, 90% of customers turn right immediately after entering a retail space. By leveraging information like this, c-store operators can position products to subliminally control how customers move through the space.  Other ways to do this is by placing high demand products toward the back or middle of the sales floor to maximize a customer’s exposure to other products.
  • Technology Focused – Embracing technology through digital advertising screens, cashier-less checkout kiosks, and mobile applications are becoming more common and drawing in younger consumers.
  • Expanding Beyond the Physical Space – While layouts and designs are important for the interior space, many consumers are expecting products to be available without having to set foot in the store.  Some c-stores are looking to expand the in-store experience beyond their four walls by offering services such as drive-thrus.  
“It’s a little too early to say how sites will look, but for foodservice, prior to COVID-19 there was already a seismic move toward customers using drive-thru” Iyas Munshi, Group Commercial Director, EG Group

Current Challenges Impacting C-Store Design & Layout

Rapidly emerging design trends and limitations are presenting challenges for c-store operators.  Businesses will need to keep track of these changes and optimize their design standards and store layouts to stay competitive.

  • New Competition – Large grocery store chains are quickly realizing that many consumers prefer a smaller, boutique-style shopping experience instead of a massive traditional store.  Major grocery brands like Albertsons are experimenting with mini-market versions of their stores.  This could create increased competition for convenient stores.  
  • Limited Resources – Individually operated c-stores and small chains may lack the capital to implement major changes such as store remodels, high-tech gadgets, updated technology, or adding extra parking for increased curbside pickup.
  • Balance Convenience with Security – C-stores have experienced a recent increase in shoplifting.  Convenience stores in the Los Angeles area reported a 23% increase in 2021 over the prior year. C-store operators need to balance providing a layout that provides unrestricted access to products without making “grab and run” shoplifting easy.
  • Data Driven Decisions – Convenience stores that don’t have a good source of sales and customer behavior data will struggle to make decisions when it comes to optimizing their c-store layouts.  
  • Limited Flexibility with Existing Stores – Existing stores may be limited in the design changes that can be made, like incorporating a drive thru or adding a new row of coolers for fresh produce.  This will likely be less of an issue for new stores that can be designed with these elements in mind.  

What the Future Holds for C-store Design and Layout

C-store design and layout is expected to continue evolving, especially as technology improves.  In the near future, c-stores could look entirely different.  Many of these changes will depend on new technological development and unique generational preferences that come into play.  

Some companies are exploring “The Blok” concept which blends the drive-thru and in-store experience.  With this model, customers could remain in their vehicles and pass through the store as they select products they want to purchase.  

Technology will definitely impact store design and layout.  These advancements could range from digital displays that personalize advertisements for individual customers based on their past purchases to artificial intelligence (AI) that could be leveraged to analyze product placement and c-store layout to maximize sales.  

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the convenient store industry.  Companies that remain nimble and quickly adapt the look and feel of their stores to meet customer demand and new technology, will have the best chance of capturing and retaining a loyal following.

October 25, 2021