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OCSA partners with Paygos for e-commerce platform

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association is partnering with

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Paygos to create a service that will enable independent convenience stores to order merchandise from a centralized cloud-based platform.

Developed and managed by Paygos, the e-commerce platform will feature a wide range of CPG products, as well as automotive items and tobacco (the goal is to add beer when legislation is passed for convenience store sales).

“Our solution relies on existing distribution partners to fulfill all orders,” Paygos CEO Hesham Shafie explained in a release.

The service will be free to use for convenience stores in Ontario: The OCSA represents more than 6,000 independent retailers and regional chains in the province.

“For many years the convenience channel has searched for a business partner that can coordinate programs and services for the thousands of family-run convenience stores in Ontario,” said OCSA president and CEO Dave Bryans. “In a changing retail environment, working together with manufacturers and Paygos will allow independent store owners the same opportunities as major retailers in the province.”


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Modern digital signage interacts on a whole new level

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Digital signage has become a major trend in the retail space. While in the early days, digital signage was relegated to simply playing a video on loop as part of a display, today’s devices are more sophisticated. Modern digital signage allows users to interact with the display, enables them to manage the content they see, provides interactivity, and even delivers video analytics through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

As technology advances to meet consumer demands, and as the industry strives to return to normal during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some digital signage trends we can expect to see in the future.

CONSUMERS CALL THE SHOTS

Consumers are the major driver in the retail business, and as their expectations grow and shopping habits evolve, so too must digital signage. Traditional retailers are facing huge challenges, including increased pressure to exceed customer experience expectations.

Facing the need to innovate, digital signage provides a unique opportunity for retailers to bring focus back to the individual customer and provide a unique in-store journey for each shopper. In fact, 50 percent of consumers said that digital signage influenced their purchase. This means that not only are consumers interacting with this new technology, but it’s also working and delivering ROI.

INTERFACING WITH MOBILE

Another fast-growing industry trend is mobile ordering. Customers are placing their orders in advance, so the order is ready when the customer arrives. While companies like Starbucks have been doing mobile order with in-store pickup for quite some time, the trend is following customers to other retailers.

Digital signage plays a key role, letting customers know the status of their order and where/when to pick it up. This process, known as “line busting,” occurs when a customer places a mobile order and bypasses the point of service (POS) window, going straight to the pickup window instead. Orders and payment are taken in advance, allowing for a more efficient experience for the customer and giving the retailer a higher throughput, thus increasing revenue.

Convenience stores may look to this type of service, as it could increase sales while simultaneously reducing congestion in-store.

IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been crippling for retail. Many experts are predicting it will take one to two years for the industry to recover. It’s obvious that the retail landscape has changed because of this crisis, and retailers will need to rise to the occasion and adapt to the “new consumer” we’ll likely see emerge post pandemic.

In a situation with such deep and far-reaching impacts, it’s likely that consumer shopping behaviors will change significantly over the long-term — well beyond the end of the pandemic.

Consumers will be reluctant to use touch kiosks. From ordering food to self-checkout at the convenience store, the touch kiosk has grown to be a large presence for digital signage in retail spaces. Consumers’ ability to use their mobile device for a touch-free purchase will be in greater demand than ever before. Or, the use of individual stylus devices might become the new normal when interfacing with touchscreen signage.

It also makes sense that drive-thru traffic, “line busting,” and online or mobile ordering with window or curbside pickup will continue to be popular options, as we ease back into the new normal but consumers might choose to avoid going inside stores.

Retailers need to start thinking toward further innovation and how digital signage can facilitate and improve the new shopping experience. Could there be designated parking spots for curbside pickup with a digital display including order number and updates on when the order will be brought to the car? How can digital signage improve convenience and increase revenue?

TRENDING UPWARD

There’s one thing that’s certain: digital signage is still on trend for the retail industry. As consumers crave more customized shopping experiences, digital signage can be tapped to both provide and track the in-store journey. Additionally, we’ll see more digital signage interface with mobile devices, both for convenience and for touch-free options in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital signage will play a key role in accelerating the effort to embrace the “new consumer” and develop ways to accommodate and encourage shopping to revitalize brick-and-mortar businesses.

Chris Tulk has more 25 years of experience working in the electronics industry, with 15 of those years being spent in the embedded technology space. As Advantech‘s iRetail key account manager, he focuses on finding and developing retail solutions for a multitude of different brands within the retail industry.

Originally published by CSNC’s sister publication, U.S.-based Convenience Store News. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.


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C-store IQ Payment Solutions Report

 

Look, no hands: Convenience shoppers prefer to tap and pay

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Cash is no longer king, having been dethroned by shoppers opting for contactless payments at the c-store level. 

Fittingly, a primary driver is overall convenience, as shoppers seek quick and easy ways to pay, whether in store or at the pump, according to Convenience Store News Canada’s proprietary research report C-store IQ: A National Shopper Study

C-Store IQ is the first convenience and gas specific study that delves into the wants, needs, perspectives and habits of Canadian consumers. 

Of course, these days contactless isn’t just the word for tapping to pay with a credit card, debit card or mobile app—it’s a strategy to help combat the spread of COVID-19. 

According to C-store IQ research, the definition of convenience, for most shoppers, is an experience that ultimately saves them time and effort: 41% of those surveyed said it purely comes down to having a “convenient” experience and 34% define this as a “quick stop/in and out.” 

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 11.31.10 AMThis need for speed extends to the checkout experience, where tap and pay rules. It’s the method of choice for 67% of Canadian c-store shoppers when asked: “How did you pay for your purchase during your most recent in-store visit to a convenience store?”

  •     35% used a debit card 
  •     31% used a credit card 
  •     30% reached for cash
  •     1% opted for mobile payment 
  •     1% used a gift card
  •     0.3% used a retailer’s mobile app

Of course not everyone has access to a debit or credit card, which highlights another key payment option—prepaid reloadable cards issued by credit card companies. In most cases, these are sold by c-stores alongside a wide-range of gift cards. The prepaid cards are convenient for everyday spending and suitable for people who might not qualify for a credit card, budgeting, privacy or for children as an allowance card. C-store IQ data shows that 6% of shoppers purchased a gift or prepaid card during their most recent visit—that’s more than those who purchased wine (3%) or e-cigarettes (3%). 

Overall, research shows younger shoppers demonstrate higher usage of debit and mobile payment compared to older generations. As a result, convenience stores will continue to feel the pressure to offer more digital or frictionless shopping, payment, and promotional solutions.

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 11.31.28 AMThat pressure is mounting in the era of COVID-19, with customers across multiple generations getting on board to minimize handling cash and the hand-to-hand contact involved with payment and making change. 

 The future is frictionless

Whether spurred by convenience or precaution, C-store IQ findings are in line with overall payment trends across Canada.

New technology and payments innovation are transforming the way Canadian consumers make payments, according to Payments Canada’s annual Canadian Payment Methods and Trends report: “In pursuit of more convenient, faster and secure payment experiences, Canadians are rapidly adopting newer digital channels, such as contactless (tapping card or mobile), e-commerce, mobile and online transfers.” 

  •     Contactless payments grew 30% year-over-year from 2017-2018 with a total of 4.1 billion contactless payments (card and mobile) worth $129.9 billion at the point-of-sale. 
  •     Debit represents almost 60% of volume of these contactless payments 
  •     Debit, often viewed as a convenient substitute for cash, overtook cash for the first time 
  •     Mobile devices were used by nearly 35% of Canadians for contactless payments on a regular basis 

“We are at a pivotal moment, with a number of key driving forces that are accelerating the transformation of Canada’s payment environment,” Cyrielle Chiron, Payments Canada’s head of research and strategic foresight, said in a statement. “Evolving technology and industry innovation are changing the game, fuelled by consumer and business demands for friction-free, fast and secure payments.”

To be adaptable is to be mobile

While mobile payments represent a slower uptake than contactless cards overall, nowhere is this more apparent than at the c-store level, according to data from C-store IQ. However, the 1% of shoppers who paid with their mobile during their last c-store visit doesn’t tell the whole story. Broken down by generation: 4% of millennials used a mobile payment or a retailer’s mobile app, compared to 1% of Gen X and less than 1% of boomers. 

Survey participants said they used mobile payment apps far more frequently during transactions with other retailers, such as grocery stores, big box and restaurants. This indicates the issue might be one of the payment option simply not being widely available at the c-store level.

In fact, when shoppers did have the opportunity for mobile payment at a convenience store, more than 80% rated their experience as satisfied or very satisfied. This further implies that speed and value are primary expectations of c-store shoppers.  

According to Global Payments, merchants who “start accepting digital wallets in an ecommerce environment consistently realize meaningful benefits. These include a familiar experience for consumers, enhanced security and a flawless customer journey that minimizes payment friction.”

There are generally two approaches at the c-store level:

  1. Accept payments via mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay. Basically, this means ensuring your terminal is programmed so customers can tap and pay with their mobile phone. 
  2. Create a branded mobile app with in-app payment functionality. This is an effective way to build brand loyalty and engage with customers through rewards and special offers. Starbucks does a great job of this. 

Overall, mobile payments represent a massive opportunity at the c-store level, especially when it comes to satisfying younger shoppers. And, in most cases, this doesn’t require a whole lot of work at the operator level if your terminal is already enabled for contactless card transactions.

Cash on demand

While digital payment methods are growing in scope, it’s worth noting that cash still has a valuable role to play on the c-store landscape—after all, it usually accounts for 30% of transactions. 

The Canadian Bankers Association emphasizes that while consumers are increasingly turning to digital channels and electronic payment methods (especially during the COVID-19 crisis) cash remains important.

In fact, in recent months, the Bank of Canada stepped in, “strongly” urging retailers to stop refusing cash payments to ensure everyone could access the goods and services they need. “Refusing cash could put an undue burden on people who depend on cash as a means of payment,” the central bank said in a statement.

Convenience stores also play an important role in ensuring Canadians have easy access to cash. Of the ancillary services offered by c-stores, ATMs came out on top, with 24% using an in-store ATM, according to C-store IQ data. In this case, millennials (29%) are more likely than boomers (20%) to use the ATM. 

The bottom line, according to data from C-store IQ, is convenience stores that prioritize simplifying the shopping and purchase steps are more likely to see rewards with increased traffic and basket size. This means operators of all sizes can benefit from offering multiple payment solutions spanning credit, debit, mobile and prepaid card acceptance. Whatever the motivation—speed or safety—as more consumers go contactless, they’re opting to shop at c-stores and gas sites that accommodate these payment solutions. 

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Online marketing: Be where your customers are

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 12.11.41 PMHow can a business offering products or services raise their reputation and visibility in the marketplace?

The answers aren’t the same as they used to be. In fact, research shows that when people check out product or service businesses, more than 80% use online sources of information compared to 55% using traditional references.

There’s no question that, in the modern business landscape, whether you’re a major corporation or a small business owner, a big part of your marketing strategy should be digital. Consumers are almost always online—and retailers want to be able to reach them and observe their behaviour where they spend the most time.

The reality is that in today’s content-driven online media world, while you may view yourself as c-store operator, a CPG marketer or a supplier, you’re also a publisher.  You must provide relevant content for your customers and potential customers, who, according to research from Ipsos, spend more than 10 hours a day consuming media in a variety of channels.

If you have no online presence, you don’t exist

Do you know how your business or how you yourself are appearing and coming across online? Your marketing plan must include building your online presence: You simply can’t operate a store or offer a service without a website and you cannot grow your brand without content.  

Content marketing contains all marketing strategies that focus on sharing information. It is an important aspect of an effective SEO strategy. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization: It’s the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s—or other search engines’—search results. SEO focuses on rankings in the organic (non-paid) search results.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s online information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google wants to show its users the best result for any keyword. If you want to rank for that keyword—such as ‘convenience’— your aim should be to be the best result. It is attainable over time with a consistent effort of relevant content.  

Monitor your online presence

One key activity is to Google yourself and/or your business on a regular basis. What do you see? Anything interesting? Your online presence is something you’re going to want to monitor on an ongoing basis and improve upon whenever and wherever possible. 

The objective should always be organic results. And one of the best ways to achieve that is to start a Google My Business profile. Sign up is free and your business profile appears right at that key moment when people are searching for your business or businesses like yours on Google Search and Maps. You can even setup and build a website using their free website builder tool.

Customers can also review businesses and you can respond to Google reviews. Reviews are a powerful and effective way to boost your organic results. Online reviews help your business grow, recognize employees and help others learn about you.

Add email marketing to the mix

You might think that email marketing is dying or dead, but this is a myth. Even in 2019 people still open emails: With the broadest reach, lowest cost, easiest measurability and highest conversion rates, email still dominates online marketing channels. Studies show that email offers the highest return on your marketing dollars.

The same rules used in social media need to be followed.  Authenticity, target market and relevant content worth reading are essential. People’s inboxes are inundated. Get it wrong and you risk losing them for good. 

There are no second chances. 

Craft a strong message

Your message is what can make or break an online marketing campaign. Encourage readers to open your website, email or social media post by delivering a message that informs, entertains, and resonates. Create a catchy and meaningful website landing page or subject line with three or four strong key words and have a short lead-in sentence that will entice people to keep reading or offer value with promotions or useful information, like tips of the week.

When done well, online marketing is an effective way to communicate with your customers. It’s inexpensive, convenient and easy to track. Ensure that you develop an online marketing strategy that respects Canadian laws and targets your customers with the right message.

While the initial push may look and feel like marketing, the real outcome is an online community—this builds loyalty and trust with consumers, which ultimately drives traffic to your store. 

Gerry Spitzner helps retailers develop marketplace strategies to create, engage and keep customers for life. For more information about his approach, connect at retailSOS@gmail.com.


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C-stores and grocery turn to foodservice to stand out

Consumers on the go are turning to quick and easy food options outside of restaurants

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Supermarkets and convenience stores are turning to foodservice to drive growth and keep pace with multitasking consumers looking for easy meals on the fly. And it’s paying off.

On-the-go is no longer an eating occasion, it’s a lifestyle, which means consumers are searching for food solutions beyond restaurants, said Donna Hood Crecca, a principal at Technomic, during a session this month at Restaurants Canada’s annual trade show and conference in Toronto.

“They want prepared food and beverages wherever they happen to be,” said Crecca.

Herein lies the opportunity for convenience and grocery store channels, each of which is currently faced with its own set of economic challenges. Convenience is looking for strategic growth opportunities as tobacco sales continue to decline, while grocery stores contend with the ongoing consumer shift to online.

Retail foodservice in the U.S. pulled in $72 billion in sales in 2019, said Crecca. Grocery foodservice accounted for half of that figure ($35.6 billion), convenience stores accounted for approximately one third ($24 billion) while drug stores, warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers made up the balance, she said. And sales will continue to grow.

Total foodservice sales is projected to increase in the U.S. by 3.6% in 2020, said Crecca. “When we look at the growth rates for retail foodservice it’s really driven by that grocery or supermarket segment, which actually is the second fastest growing segment of foodservice in the United States, growing at twice the overall rate.”

New build convenience stores in the U.S. are now foodservice centric, and many operators are upping their game in terms of the quality of food they’re offering and also the restaurant-type equipment they’re adopting, said Crecca.

Supermarkets are further along in the process and focusing on the consumer experience, she said. “[Supermarkets] are getting into open kitchens, they’re leveraging the theatre of food to make it inviting, to make it a destination. So, a lot of investment, a lot of excitement, a lot of prioritization, this is what they need to do to grow their business.”

The commitment to providing restaurant-quality food is paying off for both sectors. In a recent poll conducted by Technomic, 50% of consumers said C-stores are just as capable as restaurants in offering fresh food and beverages, and 41% said convenience store private-label food items are as high in quality as food from a restaurant.

And with supermarkets, 77% of consumers said the prepared foods department was really important in determining which store would become their primary destination. “Obviously this is where these supermarket operators are going to put their money as it goes to the long term growth and viability of their stores overall,” said Crecca.

Though foodservice enhances a store’s relevance, drives visits and spend, it’s important to build initiatives around the brand’s core competency, said Crecca. “Make sure what you’re offering is something the consumer gives you permission to do,” she said. “Play to your strengths–don’t offer full-service menu if you’re good at grab and go.”

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 


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Micro-markets, major potential

Burgeoning concept combines digital technologies with offline shopping experiences

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 2.29.02 PMLooking at competitive dynamics within the food and beverage retailing marketplace, competition is steep.  As the lines of competitive differentiation continue to blur between channels, retailers look for ways to amplify consumers’ experiences both in-store and online, while being mindful of contemporary values that are increasingly shaping individuals’ food and beverage choices.

From the prioritization of fresh (e.g. increased vegetable consumption) to the demand for high quality less-processed solution-oriented options and to the quest for globally inspired cuisines, consumers are on a journey of discovery. It is both challenging and changing food retailing as we know it.

At the centre of this change is technology.

Just as retailers and restaurants have increasingly become tech companies with digitized shopping and daily delivery services, tech companies are also becoming food companies.

Nowhere is that concept more apparent that through the lens of the relatively new concept of micro-markets.

Micro-markets are a form of unattended retail outlets. Most often they are small square footage bricks and mortar stores or vending services that resemble a foodservice/grocery store hybrid model.  Due to their relatively small size, they can be strategically located in high-traffic areas, such as office building concourses, airports or university campuses. They typically do not have on-site personnel to manage or oversee operations and often include fully digitized electronic kiosks to promote easy and speedy customer checkout. 

While micro-markets may be viewed as handy grab-and-go concepts, their true value proposition lies in the opportunity to weave together digital technologies with offline shopping experiences, without the inconvenience of expending time and effort traversing store aisles seeking one- meal solutions or by waiting in line to pay.

It is vitally important for online retailers to gain a foothold in physical store retailing, given that the majority of food dollars, whether at retail or in foodservice, is still spent in bricks and mortar locations.

Ipsos’ FSM (Foodservice Monitor) tracking study reports that micro-markets in Canada, while still dominated by vending machines, accounts for as much as 3% of foodservice traffic.  While micro-markets’ share has increased in year-over-year tracking, dominated by growth in Ontario, this channel remains a relatively unknown player.  

However, at the heart of micro-market expansion in North America is Amazon Go, which is reportedly set to open 3,000 new locations by 2021.  The branding power and marketing clout of this behemoth could shine an entirely new light on this channel, particularly if Amazon includes highly urbanized Canadian locations in their expansion plans.

Current Canadian micro-market concepts most prominently include Longo’s Pronto Eats, which is a strategically placed small-square footage cashless grocery experience in downtown Toronto, with more locations planned in coming years.  It would be hard to imagine that there are not a number of other retailers or tech companies eyeing this new concept, particularly given their reportedly high margin targets.

Beyond the opportunity for profiting from this concept is also the opportunity to connect younger consumers to a convenience-oriented fully digitized food shopping experience. 

With a focus on locally-sourced fresh produce, daily prepared ready-to-eat options and easy-prep solutions, such as meal kits, the technology enabling the micro-market concept provides the shopper a sense of control to hand-pick options that meet personal taste preferences, specific dietary needs and satisfy rising sustainability requirements.  It could also facilitate blockchain-like technology that allows shoppers to instantaneously evaluate the product route to market and determine whether it aligns with their sustainability values.  

Given the evolving edible ethics criteria increasingly shaping young consumers’ decisions, food and beverage brands may have a unique opportunity to deliver messages of personal and social benefits in a less cluttered environment.

Ipsos’ research reports that almost three-quarters (73%) of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 agree that a product’s environmental impact strongly or somewhat influences their decision to consume the product, with a similar proportion of them reporting that sustainable packaging plays an important role in their decision-making.

With a growing requirement for augmented experiences that mash digital technologies with in-store engagement, we need to closely monitor the emerging channel of micro-markets.

Kathy Perrotta is a vice-president with Ipsos Market Strategy and Understanding, working with the Food & Beverage Group Syndicated Services.  Data sources within this group include, Ipsos FIVE and Foodservice Monitor (FSM). Ipsos FIVE is an ongoing daily tracking of consumption behaviour, attitudes, situational dynamics, health statuses, preparation and shopping habits that influence item choice for more than 20,000 individuals annually across all dayparts, categories/brands and venues. Ipsos FSM is a daily tracking of purchases, habits and motivations at all foodservice segments and at branded operators among more than 36,000 individuals annually. 

 


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Aisle 24 offers cashierless convenience in a compact space

Photos by Daniel Alexander

Photos by Daniel Alexander

When John Douang was growing up his parents owned a convenience store. That first-hand insight shaped his thinking about the sector—and ultimately led to the establishment of Canada’s first micro self-serve c-stores.

 “My parents exposed me to what it was like to operate a small business and what it was like to be part of a small commercial community,” says Douang. Both facets of the business appealed to him. 

What didn’t appeal: being tied down to one location for set times. “My dad worked 14 hours a day. If he wanted to take us on vacation, he had to close the store,” says Douang. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.28.46 PMSo John, his wife Marie Yong, and his brother Josh Douang launched what would ultimately become Aisle 24. What started as an automated grocery vending business has become a new way for customers to conveniently buy what they want, when they want, where they want.  “Our concept is hyper local, ultra-convenience,” says Douang.

Two features stand out about the business, established in 2016 as Unattended Markets. First, while the c-stores offer customers everything from prepared foods to staples to beverages to over-the-counter medications, there is one thing they don’t proffer: cashiers. Aisle 24 is completely self-service.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.30.06 PMThe other big thing to note about the store concept, now being franchised in Toronto, is its small size. The stores range from 300 to 600 sq. ft. and are located in existing residential spaces, primarily college campuses, condos and apartment buildings. “Go to any residential community building and you will find space that is underutilized or not used at all. Our small footprint allows us to go into these spaces,” says Douang, president of the company.

And, for those really tight for space, Aisle 24 offers convenience in a box with its fully automated, temperature-controlled vending system that dispenses almost anything you find in a standard convenience store—even milk, bread, eggs and ready-to-eat meals.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.28.27 PMCustomers wanting to shop at Aisle 24 download an app and register. Their credit card number is then linked to their account and access to the store, often in the building where they live, is provided through their smartphone. “Think of us as a futuristic tuck shop,” says Douang, who worked in the tech industry for more than a decade before opening Aisle 24. 

He notes that aside from lottery tickets and tobacco, which Aisle 24 does not provide, “there is no limitation on the products we carry. The only limitation is size.”

Aisle 24 stores, of which there are currently five in Toronto, resemble the traditional c-store in many ways. There are open shelves stocked with products and coolers filled with refrigerated and frozen products. Unlike many older c-stores, however, Aisle 24 has a thoroughly modern feel. “Our brand is very fresh, very new,” says Douang. “There is a certain demographic that is attracted to that—students and young professionals.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.29.50 PMFor those demographics and many others, the expediency offered by Aisle 24 is more than nice to have, it’s necessary to have. Many building owners and college dorms realize having a c-store on the premises is an important selling feature. “Today’s residents expect more than just a clean, safe property to come home to. They demand convenience that caters to their busy lifestyles,” Douang notes, adding that it is not unusual for Aisle 24 customers to make purchases in their pyjamas. 

After all, home is only a few feet away. 

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Tech talk

  • With remote monitoring, Aisle 24 keep a close eye on inventory, expiry dates, and other operational information, typically visiting to restock and clean two or three times a week, or more based on usage.
  • Aisle 24 uses video monitoring to discourage theft and reconciles inventory each week to closely track shrinkage.

 

Are micro-markets the next industry disruptor?

While micro-markets represent a small piece of the convenience industry, that’s changing—fast. It’s expected there will be 35,000 micro-market locations in the U.S. by the year 2022, according to research firm Bachtelle and Associates. And, those micro-markets are expected to generate more than $1.6 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.

Ipsos’ FSM (Foodservice Monitor) tracking study reports that micro-markets in Canada, while still dominated by vending machines, accounts for as much as 3% of foodservice traffic.  While micro-markets’ share has increased in year-over-year tracking, dominated by growth in Ontario, this channel remains a relatively unknown player.

However, Amazon Go is reportedly planning to open 3,000 new locations by 2021, while Longo’s Pronto Eats, which is a small-square footage cashless grocery experience in downtown Toronto, has more locations in the works.  

“It would be hard to imagine that there are not a number of other retailers or tech companies eyeing this new concept, particularly given their reportedly high margin targets,” says Kathy Perrotta, vice-president, Ipsos Canada. “Beyond the opportunity for profiting from this concept is also the opportunity to connect younger consumers to a convenience-oriented fully digitized food shopping experience.”

Read Perrotta’s take“Micro-markets, major potential”in the January/February issue.


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Food delivery services brace for COVID 19 with non contact options and sanitizer

Unknown-1When users of the Chanmao Inc. food delivery service log into the company’s app next week, they’ll notice a new option: non-contact drop-offs.

The feature – triggered by user demand and a desire to combat the recent outbreak of a novel form of coronavirus – will allow customers to request orders be left at front desks, with building security or on a doorstep.

“For the past couple of weeks, a lot of our customers have been writing in the notes saying, could you leave the order at the front of the door or could you leave it at the security or can I meet you outside instead?” said Ivy Chen, the co-founder of Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Chanmao, which services the Greater Toronto Area, Waterloo, Hamilton, Halifax, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

The no-contact service is part of a slew of precautions food delivery companies operating in Canada have undertaken amid the outbreak, which has infected at least 60 Canadians and more than one hundred thousand more globally.

With increasing numbers of Canadians working from home or self-quarantining after travelling to coronavirus hotspots abroad, delivery apps are bracing themselves for high volumes of orders, while facing pressure to up their safety protocols given that their couriers are handling food and coming into contact with customers.

Chanmao decided to make health and safety materials available to all of its couriers in the wake of the new coronavirus known as COVID-19, Chen said.

“We made sure all of our delivery drivers have hand sanitizers with them in the car, so that when they’re getting the food from the restaurant or after they finished a delivery, they are keeping good hygiene,” Chen said.

Latex gloves are hand for couriers to pick up from the company too.

At Uber Technologies Inc.’s Eats service, when couriers logged into their app to begin accepting orders in recent weeks, they were met with a message reminding them to wash their hands frequently, disinfect their vehicles often and if they feel sick, to stay home.

The company is also encouraging employees to make use of its Law Enforcement Response Team, which runs a 24/7 portal that helps with safety and public health concerns encountered while using the platform.

Uber has yet to detect any coronavirus cases spread through its users or couriers, but put restrictions on employee travel to China, northern Italy, Iran and South Korea.

Meanwhile, competitor Foodora Inc. has set up a committee to streamline instructions and implement processes ensuring the health and safety of its couriers and customers.

“Our teams have already issued a series of informed measures, including work-travel restrictions to affected regions and a work-from-home policy for those who’ve travelled recently to areas with outbreaks,” spokesperson Sadie Weinstein wrote in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press.

“We’ll continue to monitor the development of COVID-19 and implement further measures, if deemed necessary.”

Food service numbers were down in China in January, when the virus hit the country hard, but its delivery data was up, said Vince Sgabellone, a food industry analyst at the NPD Group.

It’s hard to tell if that spike was caused by COVID-19 because delivery services in the country were seeing immense demand and growth before the virus.

Whether the same trends will be replicated Canada is also unknown, Sgabellone said.

“It is still very early going to suggest that anyone has or will make changes in the way they will frequent any retail outlets or food service,” he said.

“I have not heard anything. My customers are telling me it is business as usual and they are being careful and diligent as always.”


AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Amazon opens cashierless grocery store

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Amazon is aiming to kill the supermarket checkout line.

The online retailing giant is opening its first cashierless supermarket, the latest sign that Amazon is serious about shaking up the $800 billion grocery industry.

At the new store in Seattle, shoppers can grab milk or eggs and walk out without checking out or opening their wallets. Shoppers scan a smartphone app to enter the store. Cameras and sensors track what’s taken off shelves. Items are charged to an Amazon account after leaving.

Called Amazon Go Grocery, the new store is an expansion of its 2-year-old chain of Amazon Go convenience stores. At 10,400 sq. ft., the supermarket is more than five times the size of the smaller stores, and stocks more items beyond the sodas and sandwiches found at Amazon Go. The new market stocks fresh baked bread, blood oranges, butternut squash and other food to whip up dinner or stock the fridge.

Amazon is not new to groceries. It made a splash in 2017 when it bought Whole Foods and its 500 stores. It’s also been expanding its online grocery delivery service. But it’s still far behind rival Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, which has more than 4,700 stores. Walmart has also found success with its online grocery service, that lets shoppers buy online and then pickup at stores.

Amazon plans to open another type of grocery store in Los Angeles sometime this year, but the company said it won’t use the cashier-less technology at that location and has kept other details under wraps.

At the new Seattle store, families can shop together with just one phone scanning everyone in. Anything they grab from the shelf will be added to the tab of the person who signed them in. But shopper’s shouldn’t help a stranger reach something from the top shelf: Amazon warns that grabbing an item for someone else means you’ll be charged for it.

While cashierless stores remove a major annoyance for customers, waiting in long lines to pay, it also takes away parts of supermarket shopping that some customers may miss. There’s no one to bag groceries at Amazon Go Grocery. Instead, Amazon gives out reusable bags so shoppers can fill them as they shop. And there’s no deli counter, butcher or fishmonger. Instead, packaged sliced ham, steaks and salmon fillets are sold in refrigerated shelves.

Other retailers and startups have been racing to create similar cashier-less technology. Earlier this month, for example, 7-Eleven said it is testing a cashierless store inside its Irving, Texas, offices.

Amazon declined to say if it plans to open more cashierless grocery stores. Since it launched its first Amazon Go store in 2018, the Seattle-based company has opened about 25 of them in big cities, such as Chicago, New York and San Francisco.


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7-Eleven tests cashierless store in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 4.02.33 PM7-Eleven Inc. is debuting a cashierless store at its corporate headquarters in Irving.

During the pilot, the 700-sq. ft. non-traditional store is available to 7-Eleven employees.

The shopping experience is simple: Employees download an app, sign up, check in at the store, enter the store, shop and exit. A detailed receipt appears in the app automatically after he or she exits.

A proprietary mixture of algorithms and predictive technology enables the store system to separate individual customers and their purchases from others in the store, according to the c-store retailer.

“Ultimately, our goal is to exceed consumers’ expectations for faster, easier transactions and a seamless shopping experience,” said Mani Suri, 7-Eleven senior vice president and chief information officer. “Introducing new store technology to 7-Eleven employees first has proven to be a very productive way to test and learn before launching to a wider audience. They are honest and candid with their feedback, which enables us to learn and quickly make adjustments to improve the experience.

“This in-house, custom built technology by 7-Eleven engineers is designed for our current and future customers. We continue to innovate, and coupling fresh, innovative, healthy food options with a frictionless shopping experience could be a game-changer,” he added.

A cashierless concept marks another innovative technological advancement from 7-Eleven. Last year, it introduced Mobile Checkout, allowing customers to skip the line and pay using their smartphone. The c-store operator also added 7NOW Pins to its mobile app. The proprietary technology allows customers to order the delivery service to public locations that may not have traditional addresses, like parks, beaches and more.

“Retail technology is evolving at a rapid pace and customer expectations are driving the evolution,” said 7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto. “Our team is dedicated to continuing 7-Eleven’s legacy of innovation with industry-leading digital solutions. Most recently that has included our award winning 7Rewards loyalty platform, 7NOW on-demand delivery, mobile checkout, and now our new cashierless store.”

7-Eleven operates, franchises and/or licenses more than 70,000 stores in 17 countries, including 11,800 in North America.

Originally published at Convenience Store News.