For c-stores that don’t yet offer delivery options, delivery can present a fresh opportunity to capture sales during the dinner daypart.
Interestingly, the study also showed that 42% of respondents had attempted to order products for delivery from c-stores in the past 12 months but were unable to because the store did not offer delivery services. Even so, 62% tried to order delivery again within a few months. This shows that customers want c-store delivery options — but retailers continue to struggle to meet evolving customer expectations.
Like restaurants, c-stores are navigating major changes in consumer purchasing habits that center around off-premise dining and delivery. Operators are coming around to the idea that delivery is not just “nice to have.” It is an increasingly critical component of any major retailer’s growth strategy.
The bottom line? C-stores that don’t offer delivery are missing out on sales and sacrificing market share both within the c-store channel and to outside channels such as quick-service restaurants (QSRs).
Consider Third-Party Delivery
Retailers can start with third-party delivery services (3PDs), while working toward developing their own e-commerce channels.
The ultimate goal for large c-stores should be establishing and maintaining a direct relationship with customers via native, first-party channels. A native e-commerce site or app — combined with a capable customer data platform (CDP) — provides deep analytical insights into who, when, what and how customers are ordering from your store. It’s these insights that fuel the creation of customized experiences that consumers crave.
It can be daunting to think about the significant financial investment these tech stacks require — but there’s good news. C-stores can do exactly what restaurants did in the early days of the pandemic: start with 3PDs, such as DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub, to get in the game. This allows stores to offer delivery without a large upfront investment, while giving customers what they want.
There are, however, some downsides to this approach. First, 3PDs charge exorbitant fees — often up to one-third of the check price. This isn’t sustainable for businesses long-term, a fact restaurants quickly discovered during the pandemic-related explosion of off-premise and delivery.
Customers don’t like these fees, either. In a 2021 study of 1,525 respondents, 3PD giant DoorDash found that 43% of its customers prefer to order food through a restaurant’s website or app, while only 27% prefer to order through a third-party delivery platform. Most consumers would rather order directly from a brand, especially if it saves them money.
Additionally, outsourcing means operators must trust customer relationships to these third parties — and give up valuable customer data and insights that play such a significant role in building those relationships over time.
Ultimately, c-stores should be working to build their own native apps and e-commerce sites, so they can capture as much first-party data as possible and deliver a better branded experience that differentiates them from the competition. Only then can they serve up the emotion-based customizations that build long-term loyalty.
Successful Dinner Daypart Options
Several main products for purchase were tested as part of the Bounteous + NACS study, including prepared food, pre-packaged sandwiches/salads, salty snacks, alcoholic beverages, groceries and more. One product stood out as being the most desirable for delivery — prepared food.
“Delivery” means ready-to-eat food for the typical convenience shopper. In the shopper’s mind, delivery from convenience retail is more akin to ordering from a restaurant for delivery rather than placing an order for merchandise or other household items.
Convenience shoppers clearly indicate prepared food is the top influencer for their delivery purchase decision. As a result, convenience retailers that offer delivery, or are considering doing so, must ensure they have a robust prepared food offering. Think crowd-pleasing, yet easy-to-prepare dinner favorites the whole family can enjoy: pizza, burgers, “meat and two” meals, fried or rotisserie chicken and made-to-order sandwiches.
Additionally, e-commerce platforms and apps can encourage customers to bundle other category products that restaurants don’t sell with their online transactions and delivery purchases. After all, access to a variety of products in one delivery experience is a key point of differentiation for c-stores.
Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s, for example, with more than 2,000 c-stores in 16 states, has a strong foodservice offering, but also offers groceries for delivery. New products, bottled drinks, Casey’s private-label snacks, and even household items like toilet paper and cleaning products are prominently featured on the home page and as add-ons for food delivery orders.
A C-Store Doing Dinner Right
In August 2020, Wawa, which operates more than 900 stores in six states and Washington, D.C., expanded its dinner offerings to resounding success.
Customers now have choices such as Angus burgers, pasta with roasted veggies, chicken or meatballs, entree platters like pot roast and braised pork with sides, and even kids’ meals. The chain also offers “heat-and-eat” meals for customers who want a hot dinner for later and a robust selection of grab-and-go sandwiches, wraps, fresh fruit, salads and other healthy options.
Customers can order in several ways — in the drive-through, in-store at self-service kiosks, for curbside pickup or delivery using third-party partners DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub and Postmates — and are encouraged to interact with the brand via its easily-navigable native app for the best deals.
With a hybrid model that includes both a native app and support from 3PDs, c-stores can accommodate a variety of consumer ordering preferences.
Companies such as Wawa and 7-Eleven — brands which have invested heavily in technology ranging from order and pay ahead to delivery drones — will be far ahead of those who are just beginning to consider technology investments that support broader foodservice offerings and the ways customers can place orders.
One thing, however, is certain: better late than never. The demand for off-premise dining and delivery options will not wane in the foreseeable future. Dinner delivery presents a valuable opportunity for c-stores to better serve their current customers while also attracting new customers in search of a good meal.
Kevin Rice is the executive vice president at Hathway+Bounteous, a digital growth partner for the restaurant and c-store industries that helps brands like Dash In, Domino’s and Raising Canes drive incremental revenue through digital experiences. Hathway joined Bounteous in November 2021.