6 cool c-store innovations from around the world

From healthier food options to contactless shopping, c-stores are adapting to changing customer needs.

“Convenience” was once both a hallmark and a point of differentiation for its namesake stores. But it has become table stakes in 21st century retail—where customers have become accustomed to getting anything they want, how they want it, in a (mostly) frictionless manner.

But c-stores operators are adaptable, and they’re employing a wide range of tools, technologies, and techniques to meet the needs of modern consumers—whether they’re time-starved, money-conscious, or health-conscious. Here are just some of the ways operators around the world are catering to today’s consumer.

GS25 (S. Korea) 

Spiralling food costs are leading South Koreans to increasingly turn to convenience stores as lunch spots, drawn by the promise of paying less than $5 for instant noodles, “gimbap” (rice rolls) and sandwiches. Convenience chain GS25 saw sales of instant meals increase more than 30% in the six-month period between January and June versus one year ago, and has been developing new methods for catering to office workers seeking relief from what has been dubbed “lunch-flation.” Its most recent innovation is a subscription meal service for office workers that includes discounts and delivery to their office. GS25 also recently opened a new smart store called the GS25 DX Lab in Seoul that enables customers to pay for items using their face, and watch custom ads determined by sensors able to determine a person’s age and gender. The stores are unstaffed after midnight, with shoppers gaining access through a credit card or mobile ID.


Hangry Planet (United States of America)

The c-channel hasn’t traditionally been known as a destination for healthy food options, but a new store in the health food hotspot of California is hoping to change that perception. Billed as North America’s first plant-based convenience store, Hangry Planet opened this year at a Shell station in San Bruno, CA, a small city of 43,000 located just outside of San Francisco. Its 100% plant-based offerings included organic vegan pastries; a Hangry Bliss breakfast sandwich made with Beyond Meat, Just Egg and Follow Your Heart cheese on a gluten-free bagel; and a Laird Superfood machine that dispenses vegan hot cocoa and golden milk. The store is owned by actor and entrepreneur Bobak Bakhtiari, who reportedly curated and designed every aspect of the store, from its products to its customer experience. The latter includes what is described as the first “media immersion car wash experience.”


Sensei and Galp (Portugal)

Sensei, which bills itself as the leading European provider of autonomous stores, has partnered with Portuguese gas station chain Galp to open what it describes as the first autonomous store in the gas station environment. The 323 sq. ft. store in Lisbon houses non-perishable items, food, snacks and beverages, and uses a network of ceiling cameras and shelf sensors to detect items picked up by customers. It uses software to track each shopper’s virtual shopping bag and automatically charge them via the app upon exit, with credit card payments to follow. The store was operational in just days, thanks to Sensei’s “Plug & Play: Autonomous Concept,” which allows for ultra-fast deployment.


Kwik Trip (United States of America) 

The convenience channel is increasingly becoming an option for grab-and-go meals, and La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip has announced the full implementation of mobile ordering services through its Kwik Rewards mobile app. Customers will now be able to order ahead for services including carryout, curbside pickup and delivery. The service enables customers to use the app to order favourites from its Hot Spot menu, such as the chicken and waffle sandwich and pizza, as well as beverages, commodities, and packaged goods. The carryout option enables customers to pick up their order on a dedicated in-store rack, while curbside pick-up invites customers to input a vehicle description at checkout and indicate where they are parked after arriving, upon which the order will be brought to their vehicle.  The new service will be available at all 800-plus Kwik Trip and Kwik Star locations across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, and will be implemented in all new stores going forward.


7-Eleven (Japan)

While so many c-store innovations are about catering to younger, tech-savvy consumers, 7-Eleven in Japan recently began testing a new technology catering to the country’s elderly shoppers. The chain partnered with the technology company Toppan on a trial using the latter’s RemoPick smart glasses—which were originally created to assist with apple picking—to help the country’s elderly homebound population shop from the comfort of their couch. The trial sees a 7-Eleven clerk wearing the glasses and browsing store shelves, with the images relayed in real-time to a shopper watching on a smartphone or tablet. Customers select the item on their device to instruct the clerk to add it to the basket, and the order is later delivered to shoppers. While there are still bugs to work out, most notably the amount of work required for c-store employees, a potential full-scale launch could come as early as fiscal 2023.


MAPCO (United States of America)

MAPCO, which operates more than 300 stores in the southeastern U.S., is rolling out its new “store of the future” concept aimed at giving customers what it calls a “better break”. The new stores have adopted a tech-forward approach that includes contact-free shopping through the MACPCO Scan app, as well as cashier-less checkout that lets users bypass the checkout line by scanning a special QR code on their phone. The new stores also house Amazon Lockers that offer a secure, self-service option (a welcome option as “porch pirates” become more brazen and commonplace). The newly renovated stores also feature an open floor plan and refreshed layout including large windows and high ceilings, as well as new touchscreen fountain machines with more than 20 beverage offerings, including Icee frozen carbonated beverages and fresh coffee. There are also new food displays, gondolas featuring favourite snacks and common household items, and a beer cave. Mmm, beer cave.


We are always interesting in profiling innovative convenience, gas and car wash operators in Canada.

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