3 Obstacles that Stand in C-Stores' Path to Dominance in 2018
“No longer just a place to grab fuel, coffee, and maybe beef jerky, C-stores have evolved into a $31 billion industry whose leading strategists are placing their future bets on foodservice.” (QSR Magazine)
C-stores have certainly given their competitors a run for their money in 2017. But as C-stores grow at a breakneck pace, so, too, do groceraunt concepts invest in full cafes and delivery services. How can C-stores maintain their momentum? They have to fight the good fight to hold onto their market share, and beyond that, steal some away from grocery stores and restaurants.
Here are 3 challenges that convenience stores will have to overcome in 2018 in order to continue down the road toward domination…
1. The Changing Face of Convenience
It used to be that when you forgot a jar of peanut butter on your last grocery run, or the chips, dip, and adult beverages for the big game, you ran up to your local corner store. It was simple and wasn’t too far out of your way. You didn’t mind paying higher prices because convenience was worth it to you.
But as the great Bob Dylan once said, “The times, they are a changin’.”
With our days filling up more and more, and the concept of “free time” flying out the window, time savers and digital assistants are becoming extremely popular. Grocery delivery services are now provided in almost every major metropolitan market. This isn’t technology that is coming in the next 5-10 years; it’s here, and it’s here to stay.
Here’s the counter value-proposition convenience stores can offer their customers: What if you could place an order online for lunch, and when you get there, pick up lunch and those forgotten grocery items, all while you fill up your car? Or, if you’re in a time crunch, you stop at the store and step up to a kiosk that remembers your favorite order so you can check out in under 10 seconds? Time-saving technology like self-order kiosks provides a much more convenient way for your customers to shop and keeps them coming back.
2. Americans Demand Healthy Options
A recent study showed that 88% of people will pay more for healthier food options (Forbes). The prepared foodservice industry is realizing this, blurring the line between restaurants and grocery stores. Groceraunts are successfully stealing market share from fast casual and quick service restaurants by providing made-to-order sandwich, salad, and soup options. If your convenience store doesn’t have the same mindset, be prepared to be left in the dust.
More and more brands are building store-within-a-store cafes serving made-to-order food options to their customers. Others are bringing in locally prepared and low-cost healthy food options such as home-style turkey chili and chicken parmesan on a daily basis. This fresh, healthy food strategy differentiates these stores and provide all the more reason for their customers to turn into repeat shoppers.
3. Branding Matters
Historically speaking, branding didn’t matter much for convenience stores. Their big selling point was convenience, of course. But now, as grocery stores and restaurants have encroached on that territory, it’s important that C-stores differentiate themselves with an appealing brand.
Just take a look at what WaWa and Sheetz have done. It’s not a mistake that I get calls from C-store owners wanting to replicate their success. These stores have been very deliberate in making their cafes and their ordering process an integral part of their brand. The processes they’ve put in place make it easy to WOW the consumer.
To be successful in 2018, C-store brands will have to bring “convenience” back to the convenience store: make the product exceptional, the guest experience seamless, and their brand worth being loyal to.