Customers Want an Experience When Shopping

From luxury brands to convenience stores, experiential retail is now seen as vital to success and longevity in the industry.

January 04, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Physical retailers, including convenience retailers, are making their stores an experience to reattract customers after the pandemic pushed consumers to e-commerce, reports Fast Company. Brands are looking beyond shopping and offering experiences like dining, art and music, and an interesting store visit is vital to success, according to industry experts.

“This is great news for consumers,” Dan Frommer, founder of The New Consumer, told Fast Company. “We’re just not going to put up with subpar stores anymore.”

That’s in line with recent NACS research indicating that convenience store customers have evolved and are looking for retailers to meet their new, heightened expectations for convenience, product assortment, speed of service and friendly staff, among others. That’s according to findings of the 2022 NACS Convenience Voices survey featured in the January NACS Magazine cover story, “Looking Backward and Forward.” (Read the pdf version here.)

Of course, the experiential retail concept isn’t new. Many retailers were using this marketing tool to gain customer loyalty before the pandemic, with Warby Parker hosting book launches, Everlane offering free lectures in store and Lululemon holding yoga classes.

Now that stores are welcoming more and more in-person customers, they have the chance to reimagine what their stores can be, according to Fast Company. Frommer says that an important element, however, is that retailers need to offer more than gimmicks, such as just having an Instagrammable store or flashy but unhelpful technology. These experiences should be useful and solve problems for customers, he told Fast Company.

Of course, convenience stores continued to welcome in-store patrons throughout the pandemic, as they were deemed an essential business, and many saw their customers choosing a convenience store for essential goods as opposed to shopping at a crowded grocery store. But with competition from companies outside the industry, including QSRs and e-commerce, an experiential c-store is a way to stand out.

Fast Company uses 7-Eleven as an example of how c-stores can create that “wow” experience for customers. The company is developing new store concepts, which have been unveiled in Dallas and Washington, D.C., and will eventually be rolled out across the brand’s store portfolio.

“Consumers can now buy everything online,” Carlie Russell, a senior designer who worked on 7-Eleven’s Dallas store redesign. “Even convenience stores need to step up their game to get people to come in.”

?Russell told Fast Company that a beautiful, well-designed store that makes customers feel comfortable is a must now. The redesigned 7-Eleven stores include concrete floors, walls made of brick and wood, fixtures below eye level for safety and women’s restrooms located close to the registers.

The goal of the redesign is to make the stores an inviting space where customers want to stay for a while, Russell said, which includes an elevated, unique foodservice offering. 7-Eleven’s Evolution stores include a Laredo Taco Company foodservice concept with freshly prepared food and indoor and outdoor seating, and the redesigned stores allow customers to create their own customized drink at stations that include nitro coffee and iced fruity beverages.

(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.)

7-Eleven is one of many convenience stores revolutionizing their stores for a unique experience. The NACS Ideas 2 Go video series features multiple innovative convenience retailers today that are operating the convenience store of tomorrow.