By John Lofstock, Editor
Despite fast-changing customer expectations, shortened product and retail life cycles and rapid technological advancements, many retailers have not taken advantage of opportunities to innovate.
By applying new perspectives to established ways of doing business, convenience store retailers can strengthen their competitive and financial positions, improve the customer experience and create a new life cycle of growth. As customers’ lifestyles become more fast-paced, there has never been a greater need for retail innovation than in today’s cluttered marketplace, nor a period of greater opportunity. Significant and rapid demographic, economic, social and technological shifts are creating a fertile environment for new ideas to better serve customers and steal market share.
This is why a solid social media strategy is becoming more important. In this digital age, social media platforms will help you stay on top of these market shifts. Furthermore, social media will help you reach a wide variety of consumers, understand what they are looking for and, most importantly, learn what they are saying about your brand.
Social networking fosters community among consumers who share a common interest. They ask questions like, “Where can I get good food?” or “Who has the best service?” These conversations are happening and you have the opportunity to participate in them. Retailers are forging stronger relationships with consumers and earning their patronage by helping them to connect in ways that are important to them. Any competitive advantage you can glean will help your business.
But, like the competitive retail landscape, the social media landscape is becoming more complicated. “We have to try even harder to determine what our consumers are interested in today because there’s so much competing for their mind space right now,” said Crystal Washington, author of The Social Media Why.
Washington worked with CSD to identify best practices in social media and which convenience store chains are making the biggest impact in the market. Read CSD’s 2016 Social Media Awards in our upcoming January issue.
Working to Make a Difference
Perhaps the greatest competitive advantage a chain can cultivate is a service culture with an outstanding workforce. All you have to do is observe how top quartile companies treat and respect their personnel to understand what kind of asset frontline employees can be to a successful company. It’s no accident that these operators are outperforming their competitors across all retail channels.
While retail acquisitions and bankruptcies tend to dominate the news, there are many, many great chains that consistently offer competitive pay, great training and ample room for advancement. In the convenience store industry, chains like QuikTrip, Wawa, Sheetz, Kwik Trip and RaceTrac enjoy wonderful reputations as an “employer of choice,” which should be lauded given how difficult historically it has been for retailers to fill open positions.
With many graduating college students looking for stable, long-term careers, I would expect more people to turn to retail for their next job opportunity, and this could have long-term positive and negative effects. On the positive side, it will bring an influx of good, new job candidates eager to get back on their feet and support themselves and their families.
On the negative end, these same folks might bolt as soon as a new opportunity presents itself. This would be a big financial hit for stores, not only from the cost of training a new employee, but because customer service could suffer. Either way, I think there is a great opportunity now for retailers to attract top talent and showcase themselves as outstanding employers. If they can do this, it would go a long way to solidifying their leaders of tomorrow.
The convenience store industry has matured through the years and excels at meeting customers’ needs. Consumer loyalty and repeat visits are byproducts of the industry’s outstanding service and commitment to convenience. As we turn the calendar to 2016, seize the opportunity to be great.