If you are a convenience store operator, you’re probably approaching 2021 with caution. Just keeping your stores staffed in 2020 was difficult and the number of stock-outs and fluctuations in product demand (especially fuel) made for one crisis after another. Now all the market news seems to point to a terrible 2021. Christmas travelers down 25%. Online sales up 100%. In-person sales flat at best.
But don’t be too discouraged. The market news is mostly written about the “grocery segment” not convenience stores. C-stores are experiencing several trends that are contrary to the rest of Grocery Store Segment:
- C-stores are experiencing over 10% growth in customer visits, despite a reduction in visits for fuel sales.
- Basket size increased by over 10% from January 2020 to December 2020.
- Total in-store sales are up by 10% to 20%, depending on store type.
Even though the experts such as Nielsen expect the shopping behaviors consumers adopted during 2020 to continue after Covid, we have been told by numerous sources that grocery chains are trying to determine how to reclaim their lost shoppers. The challenge for c-store operators will be to retain these “Grocery Shoppers.”
The best way to keep the Grocery Shopper will be to double down on the convenient experience that attracted these customers in the first place:
- Order the products Grocery Shoppers expect to find and avoid stock outs. Remember that a Grocery Shopper who walks out frustrated is likely to be a permanent customer loss – the grocery stores are planning to get them back.
- Maintain the convenience that attracted Grocery Shoppers in the first place by ensuring short lines and minimal wait times.
- Continue the focus on sanitation and cleanliness so your stores remain attractive locations for Grocery Shoppers.
So your strengths are the same as always: location, excellent product selection, speed, cleanliness, and lack of crowding. The dangers in this situation relate to lack of awareness: you may not know you are more crowded than usual at 2pm or that certain items are suddenly in high demand or that two more items just ran out of stock in a certain store. To be successful, you need to apply your strengths to the changing types of buyers and product mix, rapidly. These are the kinds of questions you will need to ask, not monthly, not weekly, maybe not even daily but hourly:
- How many are shopping at which hours?
- What types of shoppers frequent the store at these hours?
- What are they buying? What else would they buy if we stocked it?
- Does my staffing need to change?
- Am I ordering the right items far enough ahead? Am I out of anything?
Fortunately you’ve learned the answers to all these questions over perhaps the last 10 years. So you know how to do it. That’s why you’re an experienced expert in the business. Unfortunately, all the answers changed in 2020 and maybe again this week. How will you recalibrate your business strategy to take into account this rapid rate of change?
That’s why we developed StoreKeep: StoreKeep brings the data from all your stores to headquarters in real-time. It even alerts you of anomalies, such as out of stocks or long lines, so you can take quick action. StoreKeep is the only product that collects all the data, presenting you with actionable information minute by minute, at headquarters or even in your car.
Some of the experts are encouraging you to implement new technology ranging from ecommerce, remote delivery, all the way to augmented reality. It certainly seems reasonable to evaluate all new technology, but shouldn’t the focus be on tools to help you capitalize on your strengths, not technology that puts you into new businesses? Take e-commerce, for example. Everyone knows there is a big permanent shift to ordering goods online. But what advantage would your chain of stores have, even if you implemented costly new systems and added staff, when competing with Amazon or Walmart? Good luck with that. StoreKeep, in contrast, makes your strengths more productive: it makes rapid learning possible so you can quickly adjust your operation to meet the changes sure to come.
So start 2021 with confidence. Despite all the turmoil, c-stores have thrived during a worldwide pandemic, political upheaval, and a massive shift toward e-commerce. Focus on your strengths and adjust your strategy in real-time with new technology that helps you understand and serve both your loyal and new customers.