A master of martial arts once told me that “the eye must see all sides.” So true of many things in life, and especially true for retailers today. The lines in our daily battle for sales and profits have become blurred, with merchants from multiple channels scrambling to invade our space. The competition from dollar stores, grocery stores, e-commerce, drugstores and quick-service restaurants (QSRs) continues.
So, what do I see?
Omnichannel interlopers are bridging brick-and-mortar stores and the digital space, which during COVID-19 has become such an important part of our daily lives.
Work at home/stay at home became an ignition point for delivery, and this trend carries forward even as people are now venturing out. Speedy same-day delivery is available for just about anything, and it takes convenience to a new dimension.
Technology is only getting better. Frictionless payment systems, notably self-checkout, just walkout and scan-and-go systems, are gaining traction in the marketplace. Amazon has its proprietary system for Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh stores, while Grabango, a checkout-free technology provider, is among available alternatives that can be integrated into point-of-sale systems. Walkout technology can eliminate the hassle of an unpleasant experience or waiting in line at the checkout, while allowing retailers to trim or redeploy staff.
QSRs are reaching for an increased share of stomach as well. Those focused on the morning daypart are working to improve lunch, and those who have made a living on lunch and dinner are now working hard on breakfast. Drive-through business has seen an enormous surge in popularity during COVID with no let-up in sight. High-volume QSRs are now seen featuring double drive-through lanes with attendants expediting orders, and Taco Bell has introduced a two-story, four-lane drive-through complete with a vertical lift system.
Shifting Competitive Landscape
Here is a pop quiz: I just visited a retailer that sells candy, tobacco, beer, wine, groceries and has a drive-through window. Was it a c-store? No — it is Walgreen’s.
Inflation is upon us and, not surprisingly, has consumers upset and occasionally irritated to the point where it can influence pre-established buying decisions. Dollar stores are in a prime position to capitalize on this value-driven shopper. On another front, what you get for $1 in a “dollar” store is not the same as it was a short time ago.
Foodservice remains a bright light in convenience retailing; however, the stakes are getting higher in terms of food quality. Of note are convenience stores utilizing chefs to create both delicious and “better-for-you” choices as standard fare. Not to be overlooked are grocery stores, which are also entering the prepared foodservice segment. Wegman’s, for one, offers quality food made fresh on-site and has plenty of seating available.
Technology has also proven to be a foodservice game changer. To name a few, downloadable and repeatable menu settings are available for ovens, quick-cook ovens speed the cooking process, bean-to-cup coffee solutions improve quality and reduce waste and customer ordering kiosks speed the buying experience.
Remember, c-store customers shop in multiple and competing formats, and each time they have a memorable experience in the QSR or grocery channel, they inadvertently raise the bar for c-stores.
So, what do you see?
Because two people can see the same scenario differently, I suggest you look at the marketplace from a new perspective. Take a new route to your store or work tomorrow and visit your competitors frequently. When in doubt, ask someone with an indifferent opinion and a cold set of eyes to take a look and provide feedback.
Tom Ross managed store design and layout for both Mobil and ExxonMobil “On the Run” convenience stores. He is currently the principal of Ross Co., a consultancy for convenience, foodservice and fuels marketers.