Wawa Brings Digital Integration to C-Stores

Chain teams with tech providers to give customers “boundless convenience.”

May 01, 2019

WAWA, Penn. – Wawa, the Pennsylvania-based c-store chain, is leveraging “digital integration” by partnering with companies that provide food delivery and other services consumers can order with a few taps on their smartphones, according to CIO.com.

“We believe we have a one-of-a-kind of opportunity to enhance our relationship with people and back it up with technology to make interactions more seamless and robust,” said John Collier, CIO, Wawa.

This is no small task. Wawa serves more than 600 million customers annually from more than 800 stores throughout Florida, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The company’s strategy, dubbed “boundless convenience,” reflects a shift in digital service delivery.

For most companies, creating proprietary technology doesn’t make financial sense, as few enjoy bottomless tech budgets. Some companies try to build digital services believing it is important to own the whole experience, but it usually makes more sense to partner with a provider whose core competency aligns with a company’s digital goals. For example, partnerships with Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash mean Wawa doesn’t have to staff delivery drivers to get food to consumers’ doors.

Given the evolving digital retail ecosystem, it isn’t hard to envision the possibilities. Wawa could partner with a company that dynamically updates fuel prices across all locations with gas pumps or hire another company to stream music and advertising messages to consumers while they pump gas.

“There are so many companies offering specialized functionality that corporations don’t have to build all of it themselves,” Collier said.

Before Wawa could leverage such plug-and-play functionality, the company had to make significant changes to Wawa’s IT. Agile teams comprised of IT and business leaders created an API management platform that allows Wawa to quickly connect with third-party software.

Collier also shifted from a traditional architecture approach, in which Wawa’s developers built and upgraded software using hard-coded application workflows, to microservices. This new architecture enables Wawa to add, for instance, functionality to its order management system to facilitate food orders to be picked up at a certain time. Similar filters can be added for home delivery or curbside pickup. Wawa also uses this approach to quickly modify menus for any location.

The data center is being driven by digital transformation to change. The microservices strategy has afforded Wawa the ability to add functionality in Lego-like fashion, consistent with its digital integration strategy. “We believe these microservices and smaller pieces of functionality enable us to pivot faster, enabling us to double down on our relationship with customers,” Collier said.

Wawa also is applying this digital integration strategy to modernizing checkout, using software from startup Zynstra to create a virtualization layer for its point-of-sale (POS) platform that lets store associates move about the store and complete sales using a tablet computer. This mobile approach not only helps reduce checkout lines but also frees up store associates to spend more time catering to customers.

A digital strategy isn't truly digital without a data play, and Wawa is building out an analytics platform that will pull down data from it stores in real-time, allowing the company to track cost-per-transaction for each customer, demand for individual menu items and more. Ideally, this will help Wawa cultivate better consumer loyalty.

If Wawa knows a customer’s routines and preferences, it can proactively provide them with offers. Fewer vectors facilitate this like a mobile application. In coming months, Collier will augment Wawa's mobile app to, with opt-in permission, greet customers as they pull up to a pump, offer to activate their grade of gas for them and allow them to pay with just a few clicks.

“It’s not about Wawa becoming a tech company; it’s about enhancing our relationship with our customers,” Collier said.