Are You Winning Trips?

By Lori Buss Stillman   read

Let’s go beyond location by leveraging digital tools, forecourt conversion strategies and in-store offers to drive store traffic.

May 06, 2020

HandsontheWheel_PageImage.jpgFor as long as I can remember, the keys to success in retail were summed up as this: location, location, location. And while the role of location in convenience retail is inarguably an essential asset, it seems to me that the meaning of this axiom has evolved. Location today is a qualitatively different location than the meaning that has dominated retail for the last 50 years.

Consumers today, especially in this pandemic environment, are increasingly seeking ways to save time and access convenient retail locations. They are heavily reliant on digital technology to stay connected, stay informed and be entertained. Their access to the world is literally just a few taps and swipes away and, along the path to purchase, their behavior has changed.

Winning trips today makes location more important than ever. In our 2019 Convenience Tracking Program study, consumers told us that their primary purchase decision is disproportionately made before they step into the store. Nearly half (48%) of purchase decisions are already made before they leave where they are coming from, and an additional 43% make their decision while en route or when they have the store in-sight. And while the latter 10% certainly validates the importance of physical location, winning the trip of the remaining shoppers on a premeditated mission must be won long before they see a store on the corner.

As you think about the purchase journey your shoppers take to reach your stores, it is time to rethink location. Here’s several ways to reframe the role of location in your business strategy and ensure you are optimally positioned to win:

  • Digital Presence
  • Forecourt Conversion Strategy
  • In-Store Offerings 

Digital Presence

Winning trips happens long before most shoppers come to your store, so where you show up—your digital location—takes on heightened importance. Today, retailers need to take steps to ensure that consumers know your brand and the solutions your stores provide. Using digital platforms to share key store data isn’t enough; you cannot afford to just be a listing in a ‘digital phonebook’ via search.

Shoppers today want to engage with brands. They want to know your personality, your values and feel a personal connection. Your digital location is an effective tool for building emotional connectedness with shoppers. And this holds true even with fuels sales, in which the price has always had a strong emotional connection. A January 2020 NACS survey found that 73% of younger customers (ages 18-34) would drive five minutes out of their way to go to the store they like while 68% would drive five minutes out of their way to save five cents a gallon. Connectedness has become the new price.

As you think about the elements of a robust digital presence, be sure to include:

  • Website: This is the central hub of your online presence and everything about your store (brand) should be found here:  company information, products and services, operational information, original content, ways to connect with you on other channels, etc. Make it user-friendly, engaging and keep it fresh!
  • Google Business Listing: Having a Google My Business listing is essential, given Google’s role as the top search engine. This listing is free and allows your business to show up in, on Google Maps and allows you to generate business reviews.
  • Social Media: A strong social presence is how your brand personality and voice is amplified. There are great examples within the convenience industry of retailers who have amassed a significant following and connected with consumers through Twitter and Facebook, for example. The frequency, relevancy and engagement of your social content is an effective tool for winning trips and building trust among consumers. 
  • Content Marketing: Beyond social media, what types of original content can further communicate your value and offerings? Can you provide driving tips? Highlight your community role and how you give back? Share insights that connect your in-store offers to shopper needs throughout the day? Leveraging original content further reinforces your purpose and how shoppers can connect with your brand. 

Forecourt Conversion Strategy

The second element of location is your forecourt. How are you using this physical space to convert the fuel-only and drive-by consumers to shop inside your store? Beyond the basic tenets of good lighting, a clean and well-maintained pad and store design/upkeep, the role of the forecourt represents untapped potential for winning trips.

Think about how you’re messaging in-store offerings. Digital signage, pump toppers and relevant messaging can turn a fuel-only shopper into an engaged, in-store customer. How can you use dayparts and cross-promotion to drive conversion? Retailers who serve up offers that give shoppers back time, drive future behavior and solve problems in real-time (e.g. dinner tonight, snacks for soccer practice, office celebration box, etc.) can capture dollars leaking to other retailers and strengthen their ties to shoppers.

Leveraging individually targeted mobile marketing efforts to capture shoppers’ attention is an untapped opportunity. Imagine engaging a customer (or their waiting passenger) with a quick game while refueling that entertains and offers a reward with a time-sensitive purchase prompt that requires immediate action, like “win a free fountain drink, good only for the next 10 minutes!” that translates into an incremental snack purchase. Leveraging today’s technology to target, engage and convert shoppers has never been easier.

In-Store Offerings

The layout and design of your in-store offer can be an equally valuable location tool in winning trips. The experience of shoppers, from the moment they walk through your doors, can add incremental dollars to their basket.

Retailers who utilize effective displays that reinforce daypart or seasonal selling opportunities report greater incremental sales than those who largely leave the format of their store unchanged. Consider the morning pastry case and transforming it mid-morning to savory snacks or sandwich offerings that meet midday demands for energy and mindful snacking. That same case can be the perfect location for late-day take-home meal solutions or late-night indulgent treats. 

Equally important for leveraging in-store location is the visibility of your available assortment. Through real-time inventory reporting and transparency tools, customers can “see” which products are available. Image the power of letting shoppers see—digitally—that their favorite kruller or prepared salad is in-stock and ready for purchase.

Shoppers today crave information and transparency. Focus groups convened by NACS in February confirmed this when participants ideated on how they would value the ability to confirm product stocking levels and key item availability before coming to the store. They suggested having apps with real time updates and images so they can see what types of donuts are in the case before venturing out to the store. Clearly, the way today’s digitally savvy shopper envisions the in-store experience has changed and retailers who can provide real-time information will win more trips.

Location matters! It matters not only in terms of physical location and proximity, but to the ways you leverage your social presence, forecourt conversion strategies and in-store offerings to inform, engage and build meaningful connections with your shoppers.

How are you looking at location, location, location in today’s digital age? As NACS works to provide you with the insights and tools you need to win trips and build bigger baskets, we’d love to hear more on how we can help you succeed!

Lori Buss Stillman, NACS vice president of research, is an eternal student of change, disruption and technology. If it happens along the path to purchase, she’s all in and welcomes your insights at