It’s right there in the name – the inherent competitive advantage of a convenience store (C-store) is that it’s convenient. In fact, according to research conducted by PWC, nearly 80% of American consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service as the most important elements of a positive customer experience.
Unfortunately, the C-stores’ once stalwart competitive differentiator of delivering a fast, convenient buying experience has eroded, in part due to declining sales of smoking products, increased use of higher efficiency vehicles (both electric and combustion) and aggressive competition from other retail sectors (Quick Serve Restaurants, grocers, and dollar stores).
Additionally, what constitutes a fast and convenient buying experience has been reshaped by technology. Loyalty discounts delivered through apps, QR codes, or text messages are more accessible than ever and can reflect a customers’ unique preferences and buying habits. Various forms of mobile checkout have substantially elevated the self-checkout experience. While some allow the customer to use their own device to scan products and pay, others use computer vision-enabled AI to allow customers to check in, take something off the shelf, and walk out confident that the store has automatically and accurately billed their account. Yet many C-stores have fallen behind in creating personalized digital experiences for their customers. Most C-stores still rely on old and siloed tech stacks, making their ability to stay competitive increasingly difficult.
The good (great!) news is that there are many ways C-stores can transform their operations digitally. Cloud-based platforms make it easier to integrate enterprise applications, enabling them to talk to each other and share data, which improves the pace and quality of decision-making. Subscription models for software and IT services help to reduce risk, provide access to emerging innovation, deliver the ability to buy only what you need today and scale up in the future. Collectively, these approaches make it much easier to adopt new applications and capabilities down the road. No longer is a business locked into legacy architectures and systems that don’t allow for change and growth.
If this all sounds like your retail or C-store, here are three tips that can put you on the path toward digital transformation:
Prioritize integration. To put it simply, your tech stack is the combination of software, programming languages, frameworks and data storage technologies that run your enterprise applications. As you assess your current tech stack, determine which changes can be made to enable applications to share data and facilitate action, like decision making, in real-time. Integration will make the fundamentals of your business operations faster and more effective.
Update your tech stack to achieve near-term business goals. It’s unlikely you have the luxury of starting with a completely new tech stack. Instead, you can update your technology using a staged process, with each phase designed to achieve maximum business results with minimal investment. Some options, depending upon your near-term goals, include better management of inventory and revenue, improved customer loyalty programs and promotions, replacing aging point-of-sale systems, speeding up customer checkouts, or adding new payment options (like Apple Pay or Venmo) and mobile ordering/delivery. As you capture more sales or create new revenue streams, you can then fund future tech investments.
Augment limited internal resources with external skills and labor. It takes time, effort and expertise to implement―and successfully maintain―an operational tech stack, especially given the speed of change and emerging technologies. You may find you aren’t in a position to keep adequate in-house resources dedicated to IT. Instead, you can augment your resources or outsource the work entirely to a Managed Services Provider (MSP) with the expertise to understand your objectives, identify problems, design appropriate solutions and execute at scale. An MSP should also be flexible to adapt to changing market conditions.
As PWC’s research found, customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal to the experience they receive. Delivering speed and convenience that’s enabled by technology is the best way for a C-store to meet customer expectations, increase loyalty and reclaim a competitive advantage. Discover solutions for transforming your digitally enhanced C-store here.