Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Think how much has changed in the convenience store industry in the past 10 years.
Restaurant-quality foodservice was in its infancy; loyalty was just starting to blossom; and other technologies such as kiosks, RFID (radio-frequency identification) and cashier-less checkout were generally a pipe dream.
Now, each of these concepts is front and center in the c-store industry for one reason: the customer. Customers who frequent convenience stores do not visit them exclusively — they also visit other progressive channels such as the quick-service restaurant industry, for instance. Their experience has been elevated by this industry and has raised the bar on c-stores. Customer expectations can be gradual in the short term, but failing to recognize these may make our industry obsolete.
Fortunately, many have embraced the challenge and have begun to recognize that it’s about “customer experiences, not transactions.” Rather than treating customer count as if it were a commodity transaction, focusing on the customer experience creates a bond with your customers that influences repeat occurrences. The customer experience stems from three components in order to be effective: visual, behavioral and verbal.
Technology continues to have a larger influence on the overall customer experience. Delta Airlines is a perfect example. As a management consultant, I am on the road a lot. In fact, I generally fly about 200,000 miles a year, and basically, I am boarding a plane every one-and-a-half days. The Delta app is one of the best forms of technology that allows me to change my flight; be notified of changes to my flight; track my bags; track my miles; and so on. Everything I need is at my fingertips and minimizes any and all disruptions to my travel schedule. This app has elevated my customer experience and keeps me loyal to Delta.
Here are some other examples of outstanding customer experience companies:
- Sam’s Club — With their Scan-and-Go app, Sam’s Club has mastered the customer experience for the value shopper who doesn’t want to wait in line. Simply scan your items as you put them in your cart and bypass the long checkout lines using a QR code.
- Tesco — In South Korea, Tesco has created virtual stores that customers can access at high-volume locations (i.e., commuter train stations). Customers can pre-order c-store products from virtual stores for delivery at their workplace or home.
- Amazon Go — Amazon’s innovative c-store addresses consumer needs by providing high-quality food with attractive merchandising and packaging for a reasonable price, while allowing consumers to checkout effortlessly with “just walk out technology.”
In short, while changes to a 150,000-store industry may take longer than expected, nonetheless they are coming. Technology and non-industry competition continues to raise the consumer experience bar. Our c-store industry must continue to embrace these customer expectations in order to grow.
John Matthews, founder/president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., is the author of “Game-Changing Strategies For Retailers,” available on Amazon. His step-by-step manuals, “Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers” and “Grand Opening Manual for Retailers,” are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.