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Retail technology is shaping the future of c-stores

labor-technology-teaserNow that we are experiencing a momentous shift in how the convenience store industry operates is clear, but where do we go from here?

As the convenience channel, the overall retail industry and the world get turned upside down, what happens in the next generation of stores? What are the architecture considerations? What are the operational considerations? Where are the trends going, especially given “the new normal” as a result of COVID-19?

Marty Wolfe, IBM’s vice president and chief technology officer for the retail, consumer products and agribusiness industries, believes the changes fall into four overarching buckets: customer expectations, new competition, changing complexity on how you operate stores, and increased costs.

“Changing how the store operates, the changing consumer needs, has a real impact on what happens in the store itself,” Wolfe said, presenting during the recent Conexxus 2020 Annual Education & Strategy Conference. “Technology in the store will scale differently based on the behavior of consumers.”

Many principles of the channel’s new normal revolve around the concept of contactless and not going into the physical store as often. As Wolfe noted: “The idea of contactless, the idea of touchless, the idea of not going into the store nearly as much will likely persist throughout all of 2020 and 2021 to some level.”

So, what does it take to make an existing store — or future store — more agile?

Wolfe explained that there are a number of things convenience retailers need to be concerned about; areas that can inhibit, or have already done so up to this point.

“If we think about it from a technology perspective, there are physical store limitations, the layout of the store, the planogram of the store, the deployment of staff within the store, the movement of inventory,” he said. “Then, there are the underlying technical problems as well.”

Technical problems include: complex IT environments, lack of internal resources, aging hardware, continual updates/patches, and budget issues, he noted.

There is an opportunity, however, for retailers to apply new technologies that enable rapid innovation, hyper and local experiences, and new operating models, he added.

Thinking about future trends, Wolfe said the most important break down into six areas:

  1. Channel shifts: not just digital, but multiple touchpoints.
  2. Anytime, anywhere: consumers shop in “micro moments” and expect a seamless personal experience.
  3. Asset-light model: cloud-based and SaaS capability delivered for rapid deployment, as well as gig models for service and ecosystem.
  4. Partnership: third-party brand for marketing, merchandise and operations.
  5. Intelligent operations: real-time artificial intelligence (AI) enabled operations.
  6. Automation: AI, IoT and robotics.

The Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference was held virtually in August. Based in Alexandria, Va., Conexxus is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market. 

Originally published at Convenience Store News.


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How to prevent disruptions in food supply chains after COVID-19

By John G. Keogh, strategist, advisor, academic researcher, University of Reading

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Almost all businesses involved in the food supply chain have experienced effects ranging from a mild shock to severe disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and further disruptions may be ahead during the second wave.

Yet not all organizations have learned critical lessons, and history shows us some companies are destined to remain unprepared for the next waves.

Many companies have taken decisive action to survive the pandemic and enhance their supply chain resilience. In doing so, they are protecting their interests and those of their business customers or consumers. We believe that successful firms are taking what’s known as a systems thinking approach to enhance food supply chain resilience.

In the systems engineering world, systems represent the interconnected complexity of ecosystems that are connected both internally and externally.

For example, a food production business is connected to numerous ecosystems internally and to those of their suppliers, business partners and customers.

Businesses have varying degrees of inter-dependence on infrastructure ecosystems outside of their direct control, such as the power grid, telecommunications and internet service providers. Other ecosystems include banking and insurance, logistics and technology providers and various levels of government that provide inspections, permits and approvals.

The cascading consequences of an outage, failure or cyberattack in any one of these interconnected ecosystems can be catastrophic for any food business.

Snowball to an avalanche

When a seemingly small disruption occurs within a company – such as a production line stoppage – the impact may be felt far and wide in the food supply chain. We can view a disruption like a tiny snowball that starts to roll down a mountain and may result in a catastrophic avalanche.

Disruptions can result from actions or decisions of individuals, departments or organizations. For example, in Canada, the government food safety inspectors union, citing health and safety concerns, refused to allow its members to enter meat-processing plants experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.

Like the aforementioned snowball, this decision contributed to a disruption – the plant’s closure – with complex, unintended and potentially devastating outcomes and far-reaching implications, including domestic beef supply and exports. The outbreaks in geographically concentrated meat-processing plants in Alberta resulted in approximately 75% of the Canadian beef supply going offline when three Albertan facilities closed temporarily.

That disruption sent ripples through food services and grocery businesses nationwide and resulted in consumer concerns about food security and increasing prices.

It’s been noted that Canada’s failure to invest in and adopt digitalization accounted for 85 per cent of the technology investment gap between the United States and Canada, and has contributed to Canada’s lagging productivity. When that lack of digitalization is coupled with poor interconnectivity among supply chain ecosystems, it results in food uncertainty concerns.

Food uncertainty is knowing we have enough food but without the visibility to know where it is in the supply chain. These concerns have led to calls for enhanced supply chain resilience through digitalization.

Avoid internal silos

To enhance food supply chain resilience during the pandemic, companies should be using systems thinking to consider the unique requirements of food supply subsystems (livestock, for example) and to prepare for potential systems shocks in these interconnected ecosystems.

We believe it’s vital to look through a systems lens to understand how future food chains should interact and how risk should be managed. This is particularly critical as we confront a second wave of COVID-19 and the threat of additional disruptions.

Many organizations have internal silos that barely communicate with other divisions or subsidiaries often dependent on their decisions or output. Using the metaphor of the snowball, without an adequate avalanche detection system, organizations are at a higher risk of a shock or significant disruption.

That’s mainly because timely, actionable information is not being captured and shared within and across organizations, and because no one has contemplated the potential cascading consequences of interconnected system failures.

Digitalization and systems thinking

Systems thinking can help organizations to visually map their business’s ecosystems landscape. Once this is done, they can examine or simulate where a failure or system shock may come from.

A business should assess its foundational requirements as it determines how to use technology to provide early warnings of potential disruptions.

When businesses apply advanced or predictive analytics tools, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, these tools can provide invaluable pre-alerts of potential disruptions before they happen, and allow for a course correction. This is akin to GPS warning a driver of an obstacle on the road ahead or traffic congestion with a suggested change of route.

In the figure below, we build on 2013 empirical research from logistics scholars John R. MacDonald of Michigan State University and Thomas M. Corsi of the University of Maryland by visualizing these advanced warning systems that we call tripwires and circuit-breakers.

The circuit-breakers are analogous to the GPS providing a suggested change of route _ they help companies correct a disruption before it cascades out of control. For example, closing a food-processing plant for sanitization purposes to address an outbreak is a circuit-breaker intervention.

Advances in technology require organizations to continually adapt to new ideas, innovations and methodologies. There is no doubt that many businesses employ brilliant people and technologies, and they just work fine in everyday situations.

Unfortunately, we’re living in an unprecedented era of social and economic turmoil and must react accordingly with a strategic, holistic, agile systems view. For food chain resilience, that approach must include integrated early detection alerts and rapid course-correction capabilities.

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This article was co-authored by Karen J. Hand, founder and president of Precision Strategic Solutions in Guelph, Ont., and Carl “CJ” Unis, systems engineer at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.


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Circle K launches frictionless checkout pilot with MasterCard

Unknown-1Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Circle K is teaming up with Mastercard to pilot a rollout of timely frictionless checkout solutions designed for convenience stores and other retailers.

While frictionless retail experiences have been gaining momentum in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail section and its customers are speeding up the adaptation of technology solutions to reduce touchpoints and time spent in stores.

In October. Circle K’s Shop Anywhere pilot will launch at-the-pump and in-store frictionless experiences for its consumers, enabling them to efficiently grab-and-go snacks and drinks at select locations in Canada and the United States.

Through robust inventory and participating shopper analytics Mastercard’s platform is designed to improve and speed up the in-store experience by eliminating points of friction. In other words, no line ups, no waiting and the introduction of secure payments.

For instance, shoppers will be able to  grab-and-go at select Circle K locations and never have to engage in face-to-face interactions. In addition, consumers can receive personalized offers based on historical purchasing trends. On the foodservice side, these means shoppers can place an order without waiting in line for staff to take that order, enabling staff to focus on order fulfillment.

Shop Anywhere can also give shoppers access to stores outside of normal opening hours if selected by the retailer, in addition to unique and exclusive merchandise.(Dunkin’ and White Castle in the U.S. are also piloting the platform).

According to Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Shift to Digital report, in-person shopping remains a draw, though consumers are seeking offerings that bridge the physical and digital to streamline the overall experience. In August, Mastercard unveiled its new suite of frictionless solutions for retailers to reimagine their physical shopping experience.

“As retailers and consumers navigate through one of the most disruptive periods in modern history, it’s clear that traditional business operations will need to evolve quickly,” Stephane Wyper, senior vice president, retail innovation, Mastercard, said in a release. “We’re committed to supporting our retail partners as they look to meet the unforeseen challenges posed by this new normal and provide their customers with a more digitally enabled, touchless and secure retail experience.”

The Shop Anywhere platform is supported by AI and computer vision technology partner Accel Robotics.

“We are thrilled to partner with Mastercard to help retailers deliver a new world of convenience,” said Accel Robotics CEO Brandon Maseda. “Through the Shop Anywhere platform, we are helping shorten the distance between shoppers and satisfaction.”

Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard, which has a network of 14,500 stores, including 9,414 stores in North America; 2,710 stores in Europe, including Scandinavia, Baltics, Poland, Russia and Ireland; and licensing agreements for approximately 2,350 stores operated under the Circle K banner in 15 other countries and territories.


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7-Eleven adds pick-up service to 7NOW delivery app

7_Eleven_Pick_Up_2_1404953661_3759As frictionless experiences become the new norm, 7-Eleven is embracing the trend – the company’s proprietary 7NOW delivery app is now giving U.S. customers the option to order and pay for items ahead of time, thereby minimizing time spent in stores.

“As people struggle to adapt to new routines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 7‑Eleven is committed to helping customers get what they need — when, where and how they need it,” 7‑Eleven COO Chris Tanco said in a statement. “The new pickup option on our 7NOW delivery app is an example of how we’re meeting customer’s needs to be in and out of stores quickly with minimal touchpoints and increased physical distancing, while also making life a little easier.”

Users can place a pickup order on the app at a participating neighbourhood 7‑Eleven store, walk in, bypass the line, and retrieve the order during the “order ready” time specified on their app. Items include the full range of products, from groceries to hot and cold foods, alcohol (in select markets), household items, pantry needs and over-the-counter medicines, as well as Slurpee and Big Gulp drinks.

To use the service, customers:

  1. Download the 7NOW app via the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.
  2. Enter their location in the top left corner, then select “Pickup” instead of delivery.
  3. Add items to the cart and pay in the app.
  4. Track the entire order process through picked, packed and ready for pickup.
  5. Head to the store, show the store associate the 4-digit code on their 7NOW app and receive their items.

In addition, 7-Eleven is doubling its delivery footprint. Delivery and pick up will soon be available to more than 60 million households in 1,300 cities across nearly 2,000 stores.

This is part of the retailer’s ongoing response of the pandemic, which continues to rage in the United States. There, 7‑Eleven has enhanced its standards and procedures for hygiene, handwashing, sanitation, food handling and preparation in stores, including increased frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces. The company is “encouraging our corporate store associates to wear masks and gloves when serving customers and asking our independent Franchise owners to do the same in their stores. Customers now have access to disposable gloves, tissues and sanitizer stations while shopping in stores.”

7-Eleven has also enhanced its sanitation protocols here in Canada.


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Parkland teams up with Amazon Web Services to ramp up digital transformation

UnknownParkland Corporation is collaborating with Amazon Web Services to use analytics in order to improve its logistics and enable frictionless commerce.

“We are excited to be teaming up with AWS to advance our strategic priorities and support our ambitious organic growth targets,” Ian White, SVP strategic marketing and Innovation at Parkland, said in a release. “AWS is a renowned global technology leader who is laser-focused on customer experience and innovation.”

The goal, adds White, is to uncover valuable insights into “customers’ needs and preferences to provide enhanced services, products and personalized offers.”

The company says it has been building its internal capabilities to leverage digital technology trends for some time and has identified several technologies and customer-centric opportunities that support organic growth. These include:

  • Loyalty program data optimization (including the Canadian JOURNIE rewards loyalty program) and personalized customer offers;
  • Real-time price optimization using enhanced data feeds and machine learning;
  • Progressing a vision for the convenience store of the future.

Next steps include “monitoring fuel inventories in real-time and optimizing routing and distribution, harnessing digital to help scale the business without adding significant cost and complexity, and improving the speed and efficiency of M&A integration.”

White says that by embracing digital to focus on the customer experience, Parland aims to drive organic revenue growth and margin expansion. “Digital services are changing constantly and teaming up with AWS helps us channel those developments to elevate our customer focus and enhance our core competencies of retailing, customer loyalty, pricing, supply and distribution.”


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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.