C-store customers want an app to order ahead

Discussion
Sources: App Store/7-Eleven, Wawa, Sheetz
May 19, 2022

Convenience store customers increasingly want to be able to place their food orders beforehand via an app, according to a new study.

In light of the pandemic reshaping shopper habits and demands, 41 percent of customers now want the option to order ahead from convenience stores, according to Datassential’s “2021 C-Store Foodservice Keynote Report”, reported on by Convenience Store Decisions.

The technology is even more popular among younger customers. Customers are also asking for delivery, even though only 13 percent of convenience stores currently offer the option. The high cost of third-party delivery relationships, and the loss of control over the brand experience, have emerged as the major sticking points.

The biggest operator in the U.S. convenience store space has already been working to get ahead of this demand.

7-Eleven recently launched its 7NOW Gold Pass subscription delivery service, which allows members to get delivery fees waived on more than 3,000 food items ordered via app. The subscription service is $5.95 and also allows members to get perks like free products, and earn double points on the 7Rewards loyalty app.

The chain began piloting mobile ordering/pickup and BOPIS in 2017. In 2019, it launched its 7-Eleven Evolution store concept, which acts as a lab for testing new tech features as well as higher-end offerings like attached quick-serve restaurants.

Regional chains have also been focusing on building out their app ordering capabilities. Wawa, for instance, has an app which allows customers to order, pre-pay and pick up food, and also get delivery and curbside pickup.

The chain even began piloting a small store concept for online order pickup with a walk-up window in 2019.

Customer demand for app ordering and delivery comes after years of convenience stores moving toward operating more like restaurants.

Recently a representative of Gier Oil Co. characterized convenience stores as being “restaurants that sell gas,” rather than primarily locations where people can purchase fuel. Gier Oil Co. is the owner and operator of more than 50 Eaglestop convenience store locations in and around Missouri.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will all big convenience store chains eventually need apps to facilitate advance ordering and delivery? Is there a risk that convenience stores might over-invest in this type of technology/partnership and find that it is not as useful as it purports to be for customers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Online/mobile ordering will become an expected service for convenience stores, as consumers are enjoying this convenience across many restaurant and retail chains."
"The c in c-store stands for convenience. The industry has adapted to consumers’ preferences since it began."
"Convenience stores should be careful not to destroy their usefulness by pandering to the minority of customers who would order by app."

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14 Comments on "C-store customers want an app to order ahead"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

Online/mobile ordering will become an expected service for convenience stores, as consumers are enjoying this convenience across many restaurant and retail chains. Delivery service is not as critical for convenience stores as many of the customers are combining their order with gas and are going to the store anyway. As convenience store chains compete for customer loyalty, combining ordering and loyalty benefits on the same app is a smart strategy.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

This suggests an extremely insightful shift in consumer shopping mindsets. The fact that convenience increasingly means app and mobile order is significant. I think a big reason c-stores should deliver on consumers’ changing perception of convenience has to do with the supply chain crisis and what it’s done to our expectations and needs. Mobile order not only ensures timeliness, but it also lets us know whether or not what we want is available. I believe every retailer, regardless of category, will need an app for its frequent customers. So I’m very on board with this.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

When I read headlines like this, my first (admittedly cynical) thought is that the study was done/sponsored by a company that provides exactly this type of service. Kind of like when the wine industry came up with “studies” saying the red wine is actually great for you (I really, really want to believe that!). Now, having set aside my cynicism, there’s likely some benefit here to explore — but I’m not sure exactly how much. Convenience stores are just that — convenient. We use them in the spur of the moment, typically with little planning involved. This might just be another shiny ball distracting from what’s needed — a better convenience store to shop at that’s executed properly every day.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s always been a struggle for convenience stores to get people out of their cars and into the store so this kind of seems like a modern throwing in the towel. Still, if that’s what customers are saying this is what they want, it’s best to give it to them.

I can see order ahead for food but do you really need it to order a Snickers and a Coke? Convenience stores thrive on impulse sales, with order ahead that goes right out the window.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Order ahead apps arguably make more sense for c-stores than other tiers of retail. Road warriors, truckers, and frequent travelers are loyal to various major chains, many of which are expanding food assortments and dining options. In other words, travelers often know exactly what they want, and from who, in advance of a visit and likely have planned other aspects of the stop to make the journey more efficient. Apps allow travelers to get back on the road faster and avoid crowds. App integration will be a logical upgrade as several major chains announce marketing and merchandising overhauls.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

With the exception of Luddites (who probably refuse to use the gas pumps, anyway), I believe c-store apps will grow exponentially. Americans don’t want to wait. We are starved for time, so anything that saves this valuable commodity is a winner. Look for online ordering and license plate recognition technology at pick-up to speed the transactions as these gas-selling restaurants proliferate. 

The biggest challenge for c-stores in morphing into new combo centers will be the footprint, staff, and operations of existing locations. Most stores do not have enough space for adding staging areas for making delivery or curbside or BOPIS, let alone the outside footprint to add on a drive-thru lane. With some smart thinking about process design and logistics, though, anything is possible.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Most large c-store chains have had apps for several years now, primarily, for geo-locating purposes, gas price indicators, and item promotions. Delivery as a long term strategy for c-stores is questionable. Let’s remember, the “c” in c-store is for convenience. This means speed, utility, a two or three item basket at the most. The model is not inherently designed for delivery. But hey, I could be proven wrong.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I think they’re overstating their research. When asked about it, 41 percent thought it would be nice. But they don’t have experience with it, they aren’t demanding it, and the idea wouldn’t have come up if research didn’t raise it.

Convenience stores should be careful not to destroy their usefulness by pandering to the minority of customers who would order by app. Convenience stores (usually staffed by one person) are primarily used for drop-in convenience.

I don’t see this working well.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The c in c-store stands for convenience. The industry has adapted to consumers’ preferences since it began. Examples include being open 24 hours, the addition of fuel to their product mix, the increasing number that have drive-thrus, and the upscaling of their coffee and food offers. Order ahead is the industry’s latest adaption to meet the needs of their customers. This may be the latest example of what was once a “needed to win” becoming a “needed to play” for the industry.

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust

Convenience store chains will need to invest in technology regardless of their short-term profitability. Consumers are already in this space and demanding order in advance and home delivery services, so all retailers will need to start to incorporate this into their business models. Companies like Uber are looking to become the Amazon of delivery for small retailers and are good options to borrow rather than build services. The issue is cost vs sales. Is it worth spending/charging $7 for delivery of a breakfast sandwich? Perhaps not; but is it an opportunity to drive higher AOV and establish thresholds? It is also an opportunity to align these services with loyalty programs–paid or earned. The alternative is to simply have mobile compatibility and applications that allow for customers to place orders in the store rather than gather around a kiosk-like quick check to order.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Apps are absolutely going to be essential for c-stores, especially given their margins come from inside sales. Ordering ahead — and delivery windows and/or drive-thru help solve the longtime issues consumers have of going into the store.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

There’s no reason c-stores should be exempt from the BOPIS trend over the past few years. It picked up steam during the pandemic, and will continue to be a channel certain customers will choose to use. If a customer downloads a brand’s app and uses it, the opportunity for repeat business and loyalty increases. What brand wouldn’t want that?!

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Yes! Perhaps the better question is why wouldn’t a c-store want to provide an app to make it easier for their customers to interface with the c-store, and also give the c-store trackable data about customer needs that is current and accurate.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

BOPIS, pre-pay, curbside pick up, and last mile delivery have become table stakes for every single retailer, even more so for convenience stores. However, retailers should not be expecting a steep hike in sales after implementing omnichannel capabilities. These services definitely make shopping experience highly convenient for customers, improve ROI on inventory, and lower operational costs but they will not result in magical boost in sales.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Online/mobile ordering will become an expected service for convenience stores, as consumers are enjoying this convenience across many restaurant and retail chains."
"The c in c-store stands for convenience. The industry has adapted to consumers’ preferences since it began."
"Convenience stores should be careful not to destroy their usefulness by pandering to the minority of customers who would order by app."

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