While no one can know exactly what the years ahead hold for the global convenience and fuel retailing industry, current trends will lead to more customer-driven experiences in the future of convenience stores.
Some of the most promising trends include more self-checkout (“frictionless”) options, the acceptance of cryptocurrency for payment, the deployment of robotics in response to labor shortages, and the use of AI (artificial intelligence) for inventory and workforce management, accurate demand predictions, and sales promotion recommendations.
Over the past several years, convenience stores have differentiated themselves by creating more personalized product offerings and engaging customer experiences with the goal of creating greater brand loyalty. Today, customers have more options than ever, and C-stores need to ensure they are creating “fans” of their specific brand. For example, I prioritize my convenience store visits by best breakfast pizza and “chewy” ice (it’s a thing). Point being, they cracked the code for my loyalty, but they see each customer as different.
What I also see for the C-stores of tomorrow is free Wi-Fi, personalized marketing, and entertainment and gaming options—something to do while charging EVs (electric vehicles) or dining in the attached restaurant. Bottom line, this means more technology to meet customer needs.
However, some C-stores have not upgraded their infrastructure in decades. Why? Because many felt they didn't need to. But now that everything in the C-store is quickly becoming connected—solar power on the roof, EV stations, guest Wi-Fi, in-store IoT, and even the pumps themselves—they cannot afford to wait. Digital transformation is happening now, at a breakneck pace, because customers are demanding it.
After upgrading their infrastructure, C-store operators are less concerned with the pumps as the sole revenue stream, but it is still a priority. The new priority is creating new revenue streams through personalization and owning the end-to-end experience. This is critical with some operators seeing double or even triple revenue gains by creating their own products, leveraging strategic partnerships, and tying it to their own loyalty programs.
The C-store experience of the future will be more frictionless (grab-and-go, contactless, app-driven), yet more connected than ever (IoT sensors, personalized marketing, loyalty)—catering to both the quick “in and out” as well as the longer visits. Building their brand “fans” along the way.
But what happens if there is a security breach? If customer data is stolen, point-of-sale systems become unavailable, or their OT environment compromised? Lost revenue, eroded trust or worse? The connected convenience store of the future is here now, and operators cannot afford to overlook good cybersecurity hygiene as a core component to their business.
Cybersecurity is the key to maintaining consistency of the customer experience and protecting what could be their most important long-term investment—what keeps customers coming back—their brand’s reputation.