By Sara Counihan
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—“Evolve” is a word that echoes through the convenience retailing industry. Convenience stores are changing dramatically in what they offer and how they deliver convenience. This week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode features Molly Long, vice president of store evolution and design at 7-Eleven, and explores how 7-Eleven’s Evolution stores are a testing ground where customers can experience the retailer’s latest innovations and products.
7-Eleven’s Evolution stores were established in 2019 and are a reimagining of 7-Eleven’s stores through its customers’ eyes. The company wanted to attract new customers as well as increase the frequency of existing customers, and in doing so, improve the perception of the brand overall. These “lab stores” serve as experiential testing grounds, where customers can try and buy the retailer’s latest innovations in a revolutionary new store format.
“The original premise behind the Evolution stores is that we want to make sure that we create environments and platforms that help meet customers where they’re at and ideally anticipate those needs for the future,” said Long.
Long says that pretty much anything is game for these Evolution stores. But one of 7-Eleven’s governing filters when coming up with ideas for the stores is asking if a concept can be scalable.
“Our core mission is to reimagine the stores through the eyes of the customers using [research and development],” said Long. “We want to gain an understanding, test new concepts and then scale those concepts that are working. It’s everything from the in-store environment, the interior, the exterior, the types of materials that we use, the lighting, little things like music in store that can add to the ambiance—all the way to actual platforms,” said Long.
When it comes to thinking up new concepts for the stores, Long says there are multiple ways 7-Eleven researches what consumers want, but nothing beats sitting inside of a store and observing, she says.
“I’ve challenged each member of my team to go out and actually work in these stores to help learn—especially the people who are developing these platforms—be the ones who are having to clean it on its weekly maintenance cycle, be the ones who are interacting with the customer and understanding and getting to see firsthand their questions that in and of itself makes us as a team so much smarter when it comes to developing these items,” said Long.
According to Long, 7-Eleven’s competitors are very broadly defined, and they don’t stop at observing what other c-stores are doing. They look at all types of retail, from restaurants and food and beverage retailers to fashion and clothing retail. 7-Eleven then uses syndicated data and focus groups. When a new 7-Eleven opens, they walk them in a regimented way so they can “get inside [a customer’s] head and understand what they think about—different things and different aspects.”
One thing 7-Eleven has learned is how important customization is to customers, and that they don’t want settle. This premise is evident in 7-Eleven’s 5,000-square-foot Evolution store in Dallas, where customers can combo dozens of beverage options with their food. But how does 7-Eleven prevent decision paralysis?
“It is going to be a balance that we have to strike. And fortunately, with our platforms, what we try to do is be intuitive about the way things are designed so that a customer can come in and get what they want but be able to make the choices in a way that doesn’t become overwhelming,” said Long.
Will 7-Eleven’s Evolution stores become more common than its traditional stores? Did you know that a Slurpee went to space? Find out more in this week’s episode “7-Eleven’s Evolving World of Convenience.”
Listen and download this week’s episode now. You can also listen to the podcast, read the transcript and learn more about our guests at conveniencematters.com.
NACS’ Ideas 2 Go video series visited 7-Eleven’s Evolution store in Dallas. See why customers who visit an Evolution store quickly recognize the food- and beverage-forward experience 7-Eleven is cultivating.
Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.