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Practical tips for getting in the (delivery) zone

The pandemic accelerated consumers’ adoption of (and affinity for) convenience stores delivery. There’s no going back.

Thanks to the pandemic, third-party home delivery apps have grown exponentially, with c-stores, from major chains to independents, on the platforms alongside grocers and restaurants.

Some, like 7-Eleven Canada, have enjoyed incredible growth. “Our delivery business in Canada has grown 10-fold from a year ago,” says Norman Hower, vice-president and general manager of 7-Eleven Canada.

Having piloted its first delivery partnership in 2018, 7-Eleven Canada was “ready to accelerate quickly when the pandemic hit,” says Hower of initially offering delivery via SkipTheDishes, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

But in June of this year, 7-Eleven Canada launched 7NOW, its proprietary delivery app, which first rolled out in the U.S. in 2018. With more than 900 menu items, including grocery, meals, home essentials and snacks, Hower says the Canadian adaptation unlocks “greater flexibility to meet customer needs.” This includes “a broadened assortment, creative menu and promotional opportunities,” including around 7Rewards, as the customer loyalty program can be linked to delivery orders, he explains.

To encourage Canadian downloads of 7NOW, 7-Eleven promoted free delivery and free Slurpee drinks in June, and a campaign on digital, social and traditional media highlighted 24/7 availability, as well as an average 30-minute delivery time.

The 7NOW app works by auto-locating a customer’s location, placing the order at the nearest participating 7-Eleven store (the brand has about 500 nationwide) and having it delivered by courier. Real-time tracking lets customers know when to expect their order.

While the advantages of an in-house solution include that the customer data and loyalty relationship is controlled by the brand, it takes a massive investment in technology. Other players are sticking to third-party apps so far.

Couche-Tard’s Circle K, for instance, delivers via DoorDash at select stores.

Little Short Stop Stores in Ontario partners with SkipTheDishes. With 30 stores across Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph, the family-owned business began testing home delivery from one location in November 2019, serendipitously just months before the pandemic.

Little Short Stop Stores' staff add personal notes to each delivery.
Little Short Stop Stores' staff add personal notes to each delivery.

“We had upwards of 40 orders a day. With a minimum order of $20, we were easily clearing $500 daily,” says Gerry Bes, general manager of Little Short Stop Stores. “That’s pretty decent.”

In April 2020, as Ontario was in its first COVID-19 lockdown, that figure began to skyrocket, tripling by June 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, four more locations added SkipTheDishes so the chain could deliver to its entire geographic footprint.

While delivery revenue returned to pre-pandemic levels last autumn, demand is stable. Bes notes that a swath of customers are willing to pay extra for the convenience of staying home, pandemic or not.

“It’s for a variety of reasons, whether because they’d have to load the kids into the car or that they’ve had a few drinks and don’t want to drive,” says Bes. “We will continue with delivery as long as our customers see the value and we generate a ROI.”

There is still a significant investment with a third-party app, from product photography for the app menu to employee training, but c-stores are figuring out how to make it deliver on their bottom lines.


delivery app and delivery motorbike

Helping staff manage the juggling act


C-store employees used to only worry about the customers in front of them. Home delivery service has changed that, with orders coming in via apps and employees feeling pressure from delivery drivers for those orders.

If employees have customers in-store needing attention, let the driver wait, advises Bes.

“We had some team members who were prioritizing getting delivery orders ready for the driver, thinking they were up against the clock,” says Bes. “But the reality is there is a window of time to deliver the order, so we make sure we emphasize in training that you should always prioritize the in-store customer.”

Here’s another reason not to rush: fewer fulfillment mistakes. “If a customer complains [to the app] of a missing item, the retailer can be on the hook for the cost of the entire order, not just the item,” explains Bes, who says such complaints happen occasionally.

He also recommends employees stage an order before putting it in a delivery bag, so that the process is captured on in-store cameras. “I am not saying we haven’t made mistakes, but video evidence can save you money when you aren’t in the wrong.” 

  • The 411 on delivery

    What sells: Think late-night munchies and pick-me-ups. “We’ve seen a bias for salty snacks and energy drinks,” says Bes, noting most delivery orders come in during the 10 p.m. hour and later.

    Curate: Start with a small list of high-volume products, no more than 50. For foodservice, consider items that travel well. 

    Negotiate: Delivery companies can eat up 30% of an order’s value. Negotiate to lower that figure, advises Bes: “They are willing to work with you to gain your business.”

    Shop around: SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Ritual are active in Canada, but local newcomers, such as Ambassador and Dishpal, are disrupting with new business models and fee structures.  

    Awareness-building: In-store signage is a must. Also strive for high user satisfaction scores on the apps to capture new customers. “The better the score, the higher you appear on the app,” says Bes.

    Customer service: Personalize each delivery, like you would treat each customer who enters your store.

    Ratings matter: Boost your customer rating score (and sales) by ensuring you deliver error-free and on time from the start.

    Test, test, test: Little Short Stop Stores recently added a second app, DoorDash, to one location to determine its ability to handle two platforms and measure the impact on sales (negligible so far). “We try something at one store before rolling it out to others,” explains Bes.

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

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