The C-Store of the Future: Beyond Gas & Gum
Although the industry has consolidated in recent years, close to 150K convenience stores (C-store) exist in the U.S. We may take them for granted, but they are a staple of modern life. The C-store is a solution whether we need pain relief, diapers at 2 AM, or a much-needed rest stop and re-fuel (physically or for our car).
Close to 70 percent of shoppers visit a convenience store at least once weekly.
Convenience ranks high in consumer shopping priorities, with location a huge contributor in that decision-making process.
The industry has its own association. Topping the list of biggest chains is 7-11, which has consistently held that position.
Below are some trends that will ultimately change the footprint of the C-store. Although gas remains the highest dollar value purchase in these retailers, the average non-fuel transaction is about $11, and tremendous opportunity exists to push that dollar value even higher.
- Consumers are sensitive to fuel prices, and many will now comparison-shop rather than simply gassing up at the nearest pump. The rise of electric vehicles means that C-stores need to become charging stations. Sheetz is a brand that has embraced this evolution, partnering with Tesla to bring EV stations to rural areas. Another partnership transforming the C-store footprint is BP’s acquisition of TravelCenters of America. Spanning as many as 25 acres, their locations include restaurants and auto repair shops, making them a destination for both consumer and commercial vehicles.
- Product arrays within C-stores have also evolved to meet the needs of today’s shoppers. Cigarette sales have declined, but the demand for higher-quality, healthy food options is increasing. The future may even hold an opportunity for cannabis dispensaries within convenience stores in states where marijuana use is legal.
- Product types and new lines are not the only expansion with the C-store. Full-service restaurants and gathering places are becoming commonplace. If you pass through New Braunfels, Texas, check out Buc-ee’s, the largest convenience store in the U.S. At almost 67K square feet, it sells the usual C-store inventory but also offers locally-made products, gifts, and memorabilia. With 83 bathroom stalls, Buc-ee’s ensures that hygiene breaks are truly convenient.
- Like the rest of the retail industry, C-store operators are incorporating technology into their businesses to facilitate transactions, reduce labor costs, and improve security (a big concern within locations open 24/7). Self-service check-out is already old news, but new advances in AI will enable C-stores to monitor inventory and shopper behavior, and manage humanless locations from anywhere.
- Delivery has become commonplace among convenience stores, and consumers can order as easily from many of them as from other types of retailers.
- Advertising opportunities at C-store locations abound. Digital signage at gas pumps is nothing new, but many C-store brands are now taking a page from other retailers. Two C-store brands have even launched their own media networks. That also enables these brands to better track and respond to buyer behavior, targeting personalized offers to shoppers. Local mobile advertising is also critical within the convenience industry. Brands must keep their locations’ inventory and hours up-to-date, so shoppers can easily find what they’re seeking — at all hours.
Like many multi-location retailers, convenience stores are finding creative ways to live up to their promise of convenience, expanding their footprints, providing all-in-one shopping experiences, and using technology to serve consumers better.