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The OCSA shares 9 tips to help c-store adjust to plain packaging

cigarette-1642232_1920-1024x783By now many convenience stores will have started to receive some of their higher volume cigarettes and tobacco products in the new plain packaging. These have arrived while much of the previous stock remains on the shelf, causing confusion.

Retailers have until February 7, 2020 to sell through their slower moving coloured products and the following checklist will assist you in identifying product lineups and new requirements as you reconfigured your tobacco section to ensure speed of service, staff awareness and ease of reordering going forward.

This transition will not be easy as you will have an array of sales people from all the various tobacco companies coaching or influencing you to favour their concepts. Some easy ideas for all retailers to follow can be:

1) train staff as new products arrive in the areas of placement for ease of service.

2) sell through all coloured packaging first and rotate the plain in behind.

3) explain to your customers the change while assuring them that the colours are as fresh as the plain (ask for patience)

4) decide on the best set up for your tobacco section (ie. alphabetical or dedicated flaps for each major product) and minimize the influences to continually change the shelf by tobacco reps.

5) track your sales/inventory closely. This is a good time to re-evaluate which products are most popular as many consumers may move to the cheaper products on the shelf when there is no difference in packaging.

6) ensure you have reviewed your security needs and procedures for the handling of plain packaging from receiving an order, inventory counts and replenishment through proper rotation.

7) work with your local tobacco representatives on product returns and product issues and swap out slower formats as you define the shelves.

8) be patient as this will be somewhat of an operational frustration of the business and spend time with employees to insure they have an understanding of this change

9) be mindful of underground sellers and don’t be influenced to purchase coloured packaging from anyone or compromise your tobacco business with anyone.

Originally published by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association


9 tips to help operators prepare for plain packaging



Tobacco manufacturers are getting ready for the arrival of standardized packaging and preparing to support retailers with a range of measures.

“We are committed to providing clear communication to our retailers so they know what to do, and when to do it,”says Sylvain Laporte, president, Scandinavian Tobacco Group Canada.

Reorganizing storage, training staff and selling through inventory all takes time. Plain packaging will be implemented November 9 at the manufacturer level, and February 7, 2020 at the retail level.

Learnings from Australia

Around the world, several countries have implemented or announced their intention to require plain packaging, and a dozen more are studying the issue. Australia was the first in 2012, and lessons learned by c-store retailers there are helpful to understand challenges and opportunities for Canadian operators.

Plain packaging in Australia has impacted what smokers purchase and retailers have seen a shift towards sub-value, cheaper brands, soprice has emerged as the key driver. “Plain packaging has devalued brands and changed the sales mix sothat the key focus from consumers is on the cheapest price when there is no ‘image’ attached to a particular pack,” says Jeff Rogut, chief executive officer of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS). “That affects sales and profit dollars.”

Without colour, pack shape or branding to differentiate between products, providing quick and efficient service is even more of a challenge. That can mean more time waiting in line for customers, and it increases the chances of choosing the wrong tobacco product.

Security measures have had to be strengthened – at retailers’ expense – as the cost of legal tobacco has risen. “Transaction times have increased as store staff must spend a considerably longer time with their backs to customers, sorting through similarly packaged products, increasing the risk of robbery,” Rogut says.

Research commissioned by Philip Morris and supported by the AACS and other retail associations reveals two-thirds of Australian retailers say it takes more time to train staff as a result of the changeover. More than three out of four retailers report an increase in the time taken to serve adult smoker customers.

Caroline Evans, head of corporate affairs & communications at JTI-Macdonald Corp., shares these tips.

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Quotes from this article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Convenience Store News Canada magazine.

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Get social! Savvy convenience retailers create vibrant online communities


We’ve seen remarkable change in our lifetimes, but what we’re experiencing now is different. It’s not just evolutionary change; it’s transformative change that requires us to alter our patterns of behaviour and learn new skills. Just having a nice store with nice products and services in a good location isn’t enough anymore.

Consumers are seeking modern conveniences such as mobile apps that can connect them directly with their stores, and you must be willing and able to meet those needs. Although specific apps may not be feasible for certain c-stores, the likelihood that your customers are already using social media is high.

With social media establishing itself as a viable online marketing opportunity, how can you use technology to promote your store and its products and services?

It’s time to get social

The most important point about social media is that it’s a marketing channel not a standalone marketing strategy. Your online marketing objectives should include aiming to grow your business, convert shoppers, educate your shoppers and/or engage your shoppers with a social media plan that offers visibility and connection as well as convenience. The result can be time and money-related savings of your scarce resources for marketing, as well as increased customer loyalty.

Social media allows you to connect with your loyal customers on another, deeper level. Are you considering using or enhancing your social media to promote your business in 2019?

Find your audience

This phrase is used a lot when discussing social media marketing. And it sounds intuitive, right? You must find the people who will want your offerings and target efforts towards them. But putting this phrase into practice can be a bit daunting. You might be asking yourself: Where is my audience? How do I find them?

The first step to answering this question is simple. You must understand the environment of each social media platform. Not only does the type of communication available on each platform differ, but the expectations for communication differ as well. It’s hard to keep up with the many types of social media. So, let’s break this down and look at the social mechanics of each site in this infographic that uses donuts to explain the differences.

Schedule content as you discover it

Creating an effective social media plan can be overwhelming and time-consuming, but by staying organized and planning as much in advance as possible, you can manage all your social media in one place by using a dashboard service for posting.

BothHootsuiteand Bufferoffer free or paid options. On a free version they each allow up to three social sites to post to, and on a paid basis there are plans to suit your needs. If you’re early stage the best strategy to begin is to use both as a free service; that way you’ve got six sites you can post to.

Then measure the impact of your social media campaigns through comprehensive reporting. Both dashboard services come with robust analytics to help you get the most from your activity.  It’s easy to set up, but maintenance can be complicated, so your store should be running well before getting involved in social media because it needs to be consistent and maintained to be effective.

Social media for business

A large portion of social media activity should be generated by the c-store itself and should relate to non-promotional content, such as photos from community events and other activities. About 10% of the content should be generated elsewhere, such as retail news from other sources, and another 10% of content should relate to promotions occurring at your store.

Don’t forget, social media must have that personal touch. It’s what makes your c-store your c-store.

Recommended posting frequency for the most popular social media sites for business:

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Experience accumulates

Don’t get overwhelmed with all the options you hear about. Pick two or three to get started; dip your toe in the water, and wade into the pool from the shallow end first.

Above all…don’t just set it and forget it. Make sure to engage and have conversations with your online community. These conversations just might lead to customers making a visit to your store to engage with you instead of patronizing another retailer.

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 12.01.30 PMGerry Spitzner is a business management consultant with an optimistic approach to improving life and business results. Fascinated with why customers buy, trends and a passion for retail, he is dedicated to sharing his thinking with business development strategies to create, engage and keep great customers. For more on his approach, contact him at




5 tips to reduce fraud

creditcardfraud-teaserThe conversation about retail fraud in the last few years has been focused heavily on the e-commerce side of the market.

A lot of fraudulent activity has migrated online, and it’s easy to understand why e-commerce makes it more difficult to verify buyers, while also removing barriers to fraud like EMV chip cards.

However, that doesn’t mean convenience store retailers are off the hook. Card-present fraud is still a very real threat for c-store operators.

Fraudsters rely on deception and trickery, which is what makes fraud so hard to fight. With the right tools and strategies in place, though, it’s entirely possible to put the pressure on fraudsters.

Monica Eaton-Cardone, a risk management and fraud prevention expert and cofounder of Chargebacks911 shares five simples tips to address fraud:

Tip 1: Verify Your Customer

This will seem like a no-brainer to some, but remember that just because an individual is in physical possession of a card, that doesn’t mean the card belongs to that person. You must verify each user at the point of purchase before completing a transaction.

PIN verification is standard for debit cards. Rather than just accepting the customer’s card swipe, be sure to ask for ID. Carefully compare the name and the signature on the ID to the one provided to try and verify your buyer.

Tip 2: Complete Your EMV Conversion

EMV chip cards use tokenization technology. This means instead of transferring your customer’s cardholder information by swiping the magnetic stripe, the card creates a one-time-use token for conducting the transaction. The cardholder’s information is never transferred, making it difficult for fraudsters to steal via skimming or hacking.

Tip 3: Embrace Mobile Payments

Mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are a lot more than just fancy bonus features. First, these platforms use the same tokenization technology as EMV cards, so you and your customer are protected on that front. Second, payment apps use two-factor authentication to verify their users’ identities.

When a buyer checks out with a mobile wallet, that person must first unlock the device using a secure passcode. Then, to complete the sale, the user must also verify his/her identity in-app; this is usually done via a biometric scan, like a fingerprint or facial scan. In effect, these apps are perhaps the most secure payment platforms currently on the market.

Tip 4: Be Aware of Employee Conduct

Your employees are a vital asset. But, without the proper training, they could become a major liability.

Employee-assisted fraud is an extremely common practice, duping employers out of billions of dollars each year. However, it’s not just deliberate bad actors on your payroll for whom you need to watch out. Workers who aren’t trained to identify potentially fraudulent activity can be even costlier.

Make sure you regularly train your employees on fraud prevention best practices, data security, and how to verify customers. After all, your employees are your real first line of defense.

Tip 5: Keep Tabs on Fraud

Even if you do everything right, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll be protected in every situation. Fraudsters are smart, and they’re constantly looking for new way to cheat the system.

Keep tabs on new developments in fraud tools and technologies, as well as the strategies criminals are using to beat them. We’re always going to play a defensive game against fraud, so give yourself the best advantage possible by studying your opponent and learning how to counter their attacks.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 


A retailer’s guide to 2018

2018By Carolyn Schierhorn, managing editor for Store Brands, an EnsembleIQ sister company.

Many grocery retailers, from supermarket chains to convenience stores to mass merchants and discounters, leverage their creativity and shopper insights to please existing customers and entice other consumers to visit their stores and e-commerce sites for the first time. Store Brands, a Convenience Store News sister publication, offers 10 ideas for retailers to maintain customers and attract new ones in 2018 and beyond:

1. Today’s consumers are insisting on transparency. Be sure to participate in a program such as SmartLabel so your customers have easy access to detailed, well-organized product information, and make sure to use social media and in-store signage to tell customers about your sustainability and fair trade initiatives.

2. Add more co-creation opportunities for customers on the store perimeter to increase shopper engagement and enjoyment.

3. Look for ways to make shopping as convenient as possible for customers, whether offering curbside pickup or home delivery or having satellite click-and-collect outposts.

4. Given that customer service is a key element of a retailer’s brand, make sure that employees are attuned to shoppers’ needs and wants, and that they recommend store brand products to customers whenever appropriate.

5. If you’re foraying into in-store foodservice for the first time, your grocerant needs to be more than a hot bar with a few plain tables in the corner. Uniqueness and an Instagram-worthy atmosphere are important to customers, especially young adult shoppers.

6. If you haven’t yet developed a natural and organic private brand food line, considering doing so.

7. With millennials known for pampering their four-legged companions, pet food and supplies constitute a category with untapped potential for store brands. Consider strengthening your offerings in this realm.

8. Consumers today tend to shop while looking at their smart phones, so consider how you can use the latest technologies to increase sales. With beacon technology paired with a phone app, for example, retailers can send specific messages to customers as soon as they enter the store and offer cross-merchandising suggestions when they look at items in a particular aisle or refrigerated case.

9. Play up your private brands on your website and e-commerce portal.

10. Invite representatives of small businesses and area nonprofits to set up displays on the store perimeter, so they can tell customers about community resources. These individuals and organizations will likely reciprocate by recommending your stores and private brands to others.

Carolyn Schierhorn is the managing editor for Store Brands.