LAS VEGAS – In today’s evolving retail environment, where competition is thriving and untraditional retailers are fighting to own “convenience,” c- stores have to focus on customer experience. Why?
“Because customers have choices and they don’t have to choose dirty, boring or unexceptional,” said Frank Beard, session speaker and analyst/evangelist, c-store trends at GasBuddy.
There is a direct correlation between experience and foot traffic, said Beard in the NACS Show session “Drive Sales with a 5-Star Customer Experience.” In a recent GasBuddy consumer survey, people responded that they expect certain “conveniences” at all retail stores, but especially at c-stores. When retailers fail to meet these five expectations (in-and-out fast, well-organized, fast checkout, short to pay and signage to locate items), then customer experiences fall short, brand reputations suffer and sales are affected. That’s when competitors swoop in and retailers who are struggling face the potential of closing their doors.
While the old retail playbook centered around price and location, today’s playbook has to factor in experience, said Beard. To prove his point, he shared data collected on an unnamed retailer’s lowest-performing stores and its surrounding competitors. Customers chose the higher-rated competitors even when fuel price was an average of $0.13 higher.
Additionally, a June 2018 GasBuddy survey of more than 15,000 users revealed that 82.5% of people said store design and upkeep is a strong or moderate influence on their decision to go inside.
“Convenience retailers can’t afford low-quality experiences,” said Beard, as he skimmed through photos he’d taken of bad—even horrifying—c-store experiences of his own.
Mike Zahajko, executive vice president of sales at CAF Outdoor Cleaning, built on Beard’s data-driven presentation, translating it into relatable terms and an actionable strategy. When retailers look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he said, the first thing people want after the requirements for human survival is safety. This applies to the c-store industry. Customers want to feel safe when they stop for fuel, food or facilities. Research shows they also desire cleanliness and hospitality.
“Competition has been building over the last 20 years,” Zahajko said. “Now, the data is there and available so that stores can see in real time what they can do to meet customers’ needs and create a five-star customer experience.”
Some stores already have succeeded at this, he said, sharing the story of a well-located station whose remodel initially improved sales and scores across the board. The real challenge lies in sustainability, Zahajko said. Data shows that on average, shiny and new only lasts for 250 days.
“Having the right partners, tools and resources is important, but having a program that can support sustained change is what’s really needed,” Zahajko said.