DALLAS—While convenience stores stayed open during lockdowns as essential businesses, many have changed how they do business in the COVID-19 era, Fast Company reports. For example, this week, Circle K announced it would open a 1,900-square-foot cashierless convenience store in Phoenix in partnership with Standard Cognition of San Francisco, which will provide artificial intelligence that lets shoppers buy merchandise without going through a cashier.
“In light of COVID, this is the kind of experience people will like even more,” said Magnus Tägtström, who leads global digital innovation at Alimentation Couche-Tard, which owns Circle K. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to interact with anyone. You could just walk in, grab what you want, and walk out. That resonated very much with social distancing and a low-touch environment.”
With fewer office workers and commuters stopping by, convenience stores are working hard to continue to deliver convenience. “[Stores] can’t let the well run dry,” said Dave Aron, who teaches marketing at Dominican University and has studied the convenience store industry. “You have to keep the revenue coming in. If it takes radical changes to keep customers coming, you have to bear the expenses. Because margins tend to be so low in fast-moving retail like that, you do what you have to do.”
Other c-store chains switching things up include 7-Eleven’s purchase of Speedway, Wawa’s freestanding drive-thru and DoorDash’s DashMart. “These kinds of moves that would’ve happened at some point are being accelerated,” Aron said. “You still need to rely on a lot of churn and separate smaller purchases.”
As Terri Micklin, Wawa’s director of construction, put it: “It is critical to provide new ways to access Wawa, increase convenience, and provide new options for service. … We are hoping to learn from the layout, workflow, and traffic flow at this location, as we continue to explore alternatives for longer-term application to our stores post-COVID-19.”
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.