C-stores focused on being even more convenient during the pandemic
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.
With commuting and general travel down since the coronavirus landed in the U.S., c-stores have struggled to drive traffic and are losing share to bulk-buying at larger formats.
As a result, “They need to lean on other categories and services to help develop new shopper routines and cater to evolving consumer needs,” said Simon Johnstone, director of London-based Kantar’s global discounter/c-store unit.
Among the opportunities for c-stores:
Grocery shortfalls: Out-of-stocks or fear of crowds at supermarkets, club stores or mass merchants offer opportunities for c-stores “to pick up the slack by making non-traditional convenience store categories more accessible,” said Mr. Johnstone. Cleaning and toiletry items, ready-to-heat meals and bulk items were already being added to c-stores’ mix early on the pandemic, according to National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) findings.
Urban c-stores, in particular, can cast themselves more as “corner stores” where consumers can pick up staples such as eggs, milk and fresh fruit instead of venturing out to a crowded supermarket.
Foodservice shortfalls: Adding seating and revamping menu offerings could be a solution for families facing restaurant restrictions and seeking alternatives to home cooking. Some c-stores are keeping pace with QSRs by offering healthier items. Wawa recently announced plans to open its first drive-thru-only location and just started testing a selection of customizable dinner items to better compete with higher-end, sit-down restaurants.
Omnichannel shortfall: C-stores are seen as well behind supermarkets in developing effective apps, online ordering, pickup and delivery with elevated omnichannel convenience becoming an expectation amid the pandemic. Gary Stibel, CEO of The New England Consulting Group, said, “Even the chains that are doing a good job today are still playing catch up.”
Encouragingly, some signs of improved traffic have been seen in recent weeks, although it’s possibly tied to summer vacations. Said IRI’s EVP of consumer and shopper marketing Larry Levin, “I’m confident the channel will return to power in time. It’s still the best channel for on-the-go consumption. But if working from home is the new normal, it will have to adapt.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How may c-stores have to reposition themselves or tweak their offerings amid the pandemic, and possibly after? Should they concentrate investments and efforts more on their product mix or omnichannel upgrades?