Tech Innovations Abound at Wawa

The convenience retailer offers self-checkout, drive-thrus and more, and it’s not stopping there.

November 08, 2021

Wawa Store

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Instead of letting a corporate team decide what technologies to offer its customers, Wawa lets the changing behaviors of customers dictate what tech innovations come into Wawa’s stores, according to the Press of Atlantic City. The Pennsylvania-based convenience retail chain offers self-checkout technology at 60 stores, drive-thus and drive-up delivery, as well as delivery to your location.

Some of these innovations were on their way to implementation before the pandemic hit, but once the pandemic was in full swing, Wawa realized these technologies were needed ASAP, so implementation was accelerated. It may be its readiness to adapt that is making the company stand out.

“Go back 20 or 30 years, and Sears was a beloved brand,” said Jim Morey, Wawa’s chief brand officer, to the Press of Atlantic City. “They didn’t adapt and change, and that’s going to happen to anybody. So, one of our values is being able to embrace change.”

The drive-thru locations ran into some hiccups at first with taking orders accurately, but Wawa quickly overcame these issues and now operates the drive thru-stores efficiently, according to the company.

Wawa noticed that the self-checkout lines move customers through stores faster. It also allowed Wawa to offer a more socially distanced checkout option. However, many people fear that technology is replacing jobs worked by humans, and economists have predicted that the pandemic would accelerate the trend of robots replacing humans in the workforce. Wawa says although fewer cashiers are needed, there will always be a cashier to help ring up customers, especially because of products needing age verification like tobacco and alcohol. According to Wawa, not needing cashiers to check people out allows the company to reconfigure labor and move employees to the foodservice area of the business, where food preparation is a growing part of the business. Wawa says it needs more labor than ever.

Although Wawa does offer online ordering and delivery, the vast majority of Wawa customers still come into stores and help themselves. Sometimes the same customer shops in-store in the morning and orders online later. These omnichannel customers buy 30% more products than those who only shop in-store or online, according to Brittain Ladd, a global strategy and supply chain consultant. That’s one reason why web retailers Amazon or Philadelphia-based Gopuff have launched brick-and-mortar stores while Wawa goes digital.

Ladd told the Press of Atlantic City that she predicts convenience stores will innovate even more, adding pharmacy kiosks that dispense medicine or branded vans that act as mobile stores, driving around town carrying goods. She suggests that one day convenience stores will be able to change prices by the hour, depending on demand or promotions.

Wawa is one of the convenience retailers featured in the 2021 Ideas 2 Go video series, which made its debut at the 2021 NACS Show. Read about the latest retailers profiled for Ideas 2 Go in the November issue of NACS Magazine.