At the National Advisory Group (NAG) conference, Sept. 8-11 in Minneapolis, panelists discussed how cashier-less sites will impact the c-store industry.
Amazon Go and other cashier-less concepts are no longer a novelty; they’re becoming destinations in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago, and they are challenging conventional convenience stores in the race for time-pressed customers. Beyond retail competition, the concept is also changing consumer behavior to expect a frictionless experience.
Richard Crone, president of Crone Consulting LLC, began with a keynote presentation on check-in and checkout.
Crone reviewed the disruptive forces at play, provided a guide for action and a strategic checklist to leverage these changes to grow a business through check-in, personalization and autonomous checkout.
For convenience stores, their merchandising concept, execution and location are their principal competitive advantages today. As good as that may be, Crone said, the barriers to entry are low and risk of others improving upon that formula are high and already in play. However, Crone said this is not the case if a retailer surrounds their business with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) model bolstered by a successful check-in and personalization strategy.
“If you’re not personalizing, you’re commoditizing by default,” he said.
A panel discussion on reducing friction and cashier-less sites followed the keynote presentation.
Erin Del Conte, Executive Editor, CStore Decisions, moderated the discussion between Crone; Gus Olympidis, CEO, Family Express; and Raymond Huff, President, HJB Convenience.
Olympidis, the 2019 recipient of the NAG Lifetime Award for Convenience Retailing, referred to frictionless checkout as “customer-centric” and said c-stores should do whatever they can to improve the customer experience.
“Removing friction, wherever we can find it, should be the objective,” said Olympidis.
He also said he thinks frictionless should serve as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional checkout.
The one problem, he said, is that technology is “evolving at the speed of light,” and while that leads to innovations like frictionless checkout, it can also be difficult for retailers to keep up with these advancements.
Huff spoke about adding Skip frictionless checkout to HJB Convenience’s Russell’s Convenience stores.
Skip is a cloud-based “scan and go” app. In August, just over three years after introducing the first cashierless store, Russell’s Convenience is offering their customers a frictionless checkout experience at all 19 of their Russell’s Convenience locations across Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Detroit.
With Skip’s mobile checkout app, Russell’s Convenience will be able to reach their customers directly to inform them of deals and in-store promotions, driving both the satisfaction and frequency of shopping trips.
Similar to opening its own self-serve store, Russell’s Convenience engaged Tenderfoot Software to customize its POS and Loyalty systems. The same is true with Skip, as the product combined with its operations enhances the service for customers.
Huff spoke highly of Skip and urged more retailers to add a frictionless option.
“The rest of the world’s implementing it. Why aren’t we?” Huff asked the crowd.