Is a drive-through-only store the shape of things to come for Wawa?

Discussion
Rendering: Wawa
Jul 30, 2020
George Anderson

Wawa has submitted plans to build a new drive-through-only concept store, a first of its kind for the convenience chain, in Falls Township, PA.

The new 1,840-square-foot store will be constructed near a 5,586-square-foot Wawa with a gas station that opened for business in 2019. The drive-through store will offer a scaled down list of product choices and foodservice items typically found in a Wawa store when it opens.

Mike Redel, real estate project engineer for Wawa, told LevittTownNow.com that the location was picked due to the volume of traffic in the area. An average of 25,000 vehicles pass by on a daily basis. Construction on the project is expected to begin next month with the drive-through, which will also offer curbside pickup, opening in December.

Company officials have said that the coronavirus pandemic has moved up Wawa’s plans to pursue initiatives such as curbside pickup and drive-throughs. The convenience chain also offers delivery through DoorDash, Grubhub and UberEats.

Wawa’s move to drive-throughs and curbside pickup reflects broader trends in the convenience store industry. According to a recent national survey of convenience store operators by NACS, 33 percent have rolled out or expanded curbside pickup, 29 percent have increased drive-throughs and 21 percent have done the same for delivery.

While the Falls Township location will be unique for Wawa, it will not be its only attempt at driving sales with a drive-through operation. The retailer announced plans earlier this month to add a drive-through to a store in Westhampton, NJ that is scheduled to open this year.

When operational, the store will be able to accommodate up to 19 cars in line to have their orders filled at an 88-square-foot drive-through window, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reports. As with the Falls Township concept, Wawa’s drive-through in the Garden State will offer a limited menu of drinks, sandwiches and soup. Service hours will run from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does curbside pickup or drive-through offer the better opportunity for convenience stores such as Wawa to grow customer traffic and sales? Do you think that a drive-through and curbside pickup-only concept has legs?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"As with so many other ideas, the pandemic is putting wind in the sails once again. Wawa is just the sort of operator who can pull this off."
"This move by Wawa makes sense, but I’m not so sure that the limited assortment offered will be enough."
"Integrating with tech solutions to order ahead of time and contactless payment, this could result in a real interesting format!"

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22 Comments on "Is a drive-through-only store the shape of things to come for Wawa?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

It is all about convenience. Drive-through has been a growing trend in QSR and several coffee chains and independents have built successful business models based on drive-through-only concepts. With drive-through getting a bigger boost from the pandemic, more consumers have made drive-through a habit. The drive-through-only concept can work for Wawa, but the key will be to make it more convenient than walking into a convenience store. With mobile preorder and prepay capabilities and efficient picking processes, this could be very successful. Having at least two drive-up lanes would also improve service times.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

There are already several c-store chains that have this format in place or are testing it. It makes sense where a full assortment location doesn’t make sense because of the lack of car traffic in the area. The only drawback is a limited assortment, and customers will have to acclimate to the format.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Hi Richard – I had not seen others testing this. Can you share which brands you know of? I would like to learn about how they are approaching it and if I am nearby one, to experience it for myself. Thank you.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Hi Brett, there are a few I know of– in my area Sack N Pack has one that is right across from the Walmart Supercenter. Farm Stores in Florida is another, and Swiss Farms near the Philadelphia area is another chain.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Thank you Richard!

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

First you have to recognize Wawa as being an innovation leader with a strong track records of try and learn. The key word in your question is “grow.” The drive-through-only concept is absolutely a growth opportunity that is being enabled by the increased use of mobile apps for ordering, geolocation and Bluetooth tech to know who is in line and what their order is. It is a good sales augmentation strategy that has a proper place and is not intended to replace the existing format that thrives off of impulse purchases. The growing use of IoT technology in cars and phones and smartwatches, etc. for ordering and contactless payments will continue to drive an increased speed of service that will in turn drive consumer acceptance. Until this year I would have bet strongly against a consumer waiting in a line of 19 cars for a drink or sandwich. That is no longer that case as it is now the norm in many locations.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

This concept is still as relevant as the “milk store” drive-through of old. It offers consumers incredible convenience for simple purchases. Two things have driven the idea into the shadows for the past 50 years. The first is more complex shopping trips — even a visit to the convenience store for a soft drink and snack offers a myriad of choices. The second is the retailer’s desire to get consumers into the store to increase dwell time and offer more opportunities for impulse and add-on purchases. The key to a successful return of drive-through has always been the technology to offer variety and merchandise impulse items within a small footprint and a menu board. That technology is readily addressed today with the smartphone. As with so many other ideas, the pandemic is putting wind in the sails once again. Wawa is just the sort of operator who can pull this off.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

While working in the c-store industry we learned that men outspend women in c-stores, part of this is because the female customer tends to be more hesitant to get out of the car for safety reasons. Wawa’s drive-through takes care of that hesitation.

Walgreens and CVS recently opened their drive-throughs to customers who wish to purchase more than prescriptions. This move by Wawa makes sense, but I’m not so sure that the limited assortment offered will be enough. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Brett Busconi
Guest

First, I love Wawa. It could be based on where I live (NJ) but I think it is more based on how they really do work to make a convenience store “convenient.” It is the only chain I frequent that I can say that about.
I do think this concept has legs and that the way Wawa is testing this out is a shrewd way to play it out. One location that is nearby a busy location should be able to parse out the folks who want a drive-through experience and know precisely what they want/need. An alternate location, perhaps not right next to a full service Wawa, can provide some different data.
My expectation would be that the test location in PA will do very well and show that a large percentage of people are loyal customers, fully utilizing the app, and are eager for a more convenient way to get their morning Wawa.
Others should be/will be jumping on this soon.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

Curbside pickup works well for planned purchases, such as groceries or even Starbucks coffee. For impulse purchases which are the most common convenience store transactions, a drive-through will provide a much simpler way for customers to fill their short-term needs. In addition, drive-through is likely to attract a segment of customers who did not want to go into the store, either for health-related reasons or because of a perceived amount of time for the transaction.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

If the customer is aware of and believes in the brand promise then you have overcome a major hurdle. Add to that a limited assortment offering and speed of service while building on changing consumer behavior, and you increase the likelihood of success. Coffee and sandwiches represent a significant portion of Wawa’s sales, the drive-through only concept has a good chance to do well in the right demographic and location.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I don’t see the most benefit coming out of drive-through and curbside pickup- only. It needs to be a hybrid because impulse items are out of the question in both scenarios. A convenience store is not the same as a drive-through Dunkin’, in which the selection is much narrower and impulse purchases are likely to be few.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Hey Bob! I definitely get your point, but how about an alternative way to look at the “C-store purchase”? I used to have actual data, but roughly 80% of in-store purchases come from the top 3-5 categories (depending on your category definition — “beer” vs “beverage”; “candy” vs “confection” vs “single-serve snacks” — you get my point.). Most QSR drive-throughs handle at least 3 “categories” with customized variations for many orders.

I think a pure drive-through c-store could handle the same complexity. Impulse/add-on purchases are definitely key to c-stores, but the QSR menu board combined with the order window “would you like to try an apple pie with that for only a dollar?” are getting better. The current focus on improving impulse purchasing online will only expedite learning c-stores could employ, particularly on pre-order phone apps.

I agree a drive-through will never replace a full service Wawa or Sheets store. But I think they could greatly increase through-put and profitability of a combined approach to the market.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

During the pandemic this format will certainly be welcome by those who don’t want to go inside a store. Post-pandemic, it still has solid appeal based on convenience and speed. Integrating with tech solutions to order ahead of time and contactless payment, this could result in a real interesting format!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Wawa has been a convenience store innovator for years. Its dramatic move to Florida — jumping over the Carolinas and Georgia and landing with a dedicated foodservice model — indicates its willingness and ability to respond to changing customer needs. It has been argued that Wawa eschewed drive-through based on its focus on providing ultimate consumer meal choices, which can only be fully provided by custom ordering and preparation. Having the full array of current food options would not fit a convenient drive-through model. However a limited assortment will.

Wawa continues to ramp up convenience in other ways. This summer a number of resort area Wawa stores have expanded their mobile app order option to allow for a “drive up to the store and enjoy” curbside pickup (associates bring the completed pre-paid order to the car.) This type of convenience allows for any custom order – something which the drive-through option doesn’t provide. You can be certain Wawa is not finished innovating.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This model has a lot of benefits and I can see it working well in certain locations. In other locations a traditional store model will be required to meet customer needs. In yet other places a hybrid format incorporating both elements will be desirable. The point is that one-size-fits-all store formats are no longer the best route to growth. Retailers like Wawa are right to experiment and try new models.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This seems like an idea where the concept will be far better than the reality. Convenience stores serve a wide range of customer speeds — from someone running in to pick up a pack of cigarettes to an entire family spending time choosing their candy for a later movie.

Retailers need to stay focused on the hybrid — some curbside service along with safe in-store shopping.

storewanderer
Guest
15 days 21 hours ago
The other issue I see is this will take away impulse purchases for the convenience store. Clearly drive throughs are popular for a variety of reasons. Convenience, poor weather, customers more comfortable using them during the pandemic thinking they are somehow safer at a drive through (risky business to not go see what is going on inside these places, but I guess you do expose yourself to fewer people staying in the car), and perception of speed. Now in the case of Wawa, you have another issue with the pandemic: people who order inside then stand around for a few minutes waiting for their order to be prepared. With social distancing, etc. that is a little bit of a problem. This concept can move some of those people out to their cars to wait for the orders rather than loitering around inside the store. Given this pandemic appears that it will be with us for a while, and flu season is right around the corner which will further keep us away from each other, this… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

As I am probably overly fond of saying on this forum, it all rests on execution. The idea makes sense in theory since the primary advantage c-stores have is — well — convenience, but as curbside pickup customers know, the devil is in the details. Getting stuck in a long drive-through lane that may block access to gas pumps isn’t a winning formula. So the only plausible answer is, “we’ll see.”

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I do not see this as a great idea or a game-changer. It is not a new idea and has been tried in the past without a lot of success. The only benefit I see is on a small plot of landing a market without a lot of competition.

I like the idea better of adding drive-thru to a regular store.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

A creative idea that will be embraced by some shoppers. Wawa will lose some impulse sales though. I’m not sure if that loss will be offset by the convenience of drive-through offered to some shoppers. Time will tell.

storewanderer
Guest
15 days 21 hours ago

If you like the idea of not seeing what is going on when your food is being prepared, this concept is for you. Notice the way the building is built, a solid white block right where your car idles and waits before getting to the window?

Are they wearing masks inside? Is anyone coughing? Is the inside kept clean? With a drive through, who knows?

Wawa typically has kiosk ordering in-store. Will this involve a speaker for orders for non-app users?

Also, typically, Wawa’s food preparation areas do not handle cash, since you order at the kiosk then go pay up at the gas/store/tobacco register area. Will this one need to handle cash?

So that raises another question for the above — is the employee who handles cash not touching food?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"As with so many other ideas, the pandemic is putting wind in the sails once again. Wawa is just the sort of operator who can pull this off."
"This move by Wawa makes sense, but I’m not so sure that the limited assortment offered will be enough."
"Integrating with tech solutions to order ahead of time and contactless payment, this could result in a real interesting format!"

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