By John Lofstock, Editor-in-Chief
The world is evolving at a faster rate today than ever before. More data has been collected in the past five years than since the beginning of time. This includes data on your customers and their ever-changing needs. As the world changes, convenience stores will need to adapt.
So what will the convenience store of the future look like? As minimum wage increases start to take hold, self-service checkouts and robotic cashiers are already a reality in some markets. What does the future hold for c-stores in 10 years?
McDonald’s has very publicly had to bear the brunt of wage hike advocates that are pushing for a national increase in the minimum wage to $15 regardless of the impact it has on businesses, the local economy and current staffing levels. They have an agenda and they will stick to it no matter the cost.
But the reality is that $1 hamburgers, the high cost of real estate and $15 per hour wages just don’t add up.
One McDonald’s franchisee recently told Business Insider that the price increases needed to offset any added labor costs “would cause a complete collapse in guest counts. I see no other options but the company paying to keep operators alive until they figure out how to reduce the labor required by 30%.”
Thirty percent, about one-third of the workforce at McDonald’s could lose their jobs because of the escalating cost of labor. The labor movement may win the battle for wage increases, but it’s unlikely to win the war. In fact, leading retailers have already set in motion a plan to utilize new technology, such as robotics and advanced self-checkout systems to reduce staffing levels right now.
Retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s and many supermarket chains have been training their customers for years to use these self-checkout systems, which often utilize one employee for every four checkout lanes. Early adopters in the convenience store industry include Quick Chek in New Jersey, which operates a high-volume store on Route 46 in Lodi that has proved every bit as fast and convenient as a manned register.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Great ideas at the retail level are hard to conceal for very long. Self-checkout and robotics are no exception. McDonald’s, which reportedly ordered more than 10,000 touchscreen kiosks in Europe last year to replace cashiers, is also said to be testing robotic arms to serve customers after they have ordered. The hamburger chain last month was also spotted testing a self-serve McCafé coffee station in downtown Chicago.
According to BrandEating.com, the coffee station is located in the restaurant, but apart from the counter and looks to be a convenient way for those who just want a cup of coffee to skip the regular line, while also freeing employees from having to make each drink behind the counter.
The coffee kiosk includes a touchpad for ordering and paying by credit card, a beverage dispenser and a section for cups. Drink options include lattes, mochas and cappuccinos that are customizable, however, the report said, there doesn’t seem to be an option for drip coffee. The price for the drinks is $2.99.
This is the type of forward thinking c-stores can benefit from. Touchscreen technology is meant to speed up the ordering process and give people more control over customizing their food, all while reducing opportunities for human error. More importantly, they don’t call in sick and never forget to upsell.
So when you are planning where you want to be in 10 years, you must factor in where retail technology is headed. These are not easy choices; it is precisely the people technology is replacing that help connect you to your consumers. In many chains, people are the competitive advantage.
The challenge is going to be finding the right balance for your organization. These are tough decisions, but they are important decisions that have to be made sooner rather than later.