The ‘Wow’ Experience: It’s About Time

By Jeff Lenard   read

From a focus on store design to engaging with customers in ways that weren’t possible two decades ago, how retailers and customers define “wow” continues to evolve.

February 12, 2020


Over the past two decades I have heard one constant from retailers when we visit them for Ideas 2 Go video shoots: We want to create a “wow” experience.

That sentiment hasn’t changed. The wow experience remains essential, but how retailers and customers define wow has evolved. It’s gone from delighting consumers with a unique and compelling store design, to store design plus great food plus community spirit plus technology to give customers exactly what they want, and when and where they want it.

Design, to a large extent, has become the table stakes. Design allows retailers to showcase great food and tell their story to a much broader set of customers. And over the past two decades our industry has absolutely changed the consumer mindset from a gas station that happens to sell some drinks and snacks to a retail destination—or even a restaurant—that happens to sell fuel. It’s really an incredible transformation, and one that is great to see in news outlets like this recent CNN story. We jokingly refer to this piece as “our industry’s 20-year overnight success.”

So naturally, when the former wow experience becomes common, new definitions emerge. This month we’re conducting consumer focus groups and so far, we’ve heard that a wow experience is when a store has a great vibe—when it’s a place where happiness happens. Some consumers have talked about the “Cheers” mentality where everyone knows your name, to “pay-it-forward” moments and joining the store to raise funds for a community cause. Those moments of happiness are all experiences that inherently make the store a destination because customers want to be there.

But what really sets up the wow experience today is technology. Consumers in our focus groups say that they love store apps but would like to see features that go beyond BOGOs. They want images of what’s inside the store so that they can see which products are available before they venture out to the store, or how the food looks before they order for delivery. A camera to showcase the store offer would create a wow experience, they suggested.

But let’s not confuse “wow” with cool. Wow really is about focusing on what we do best: sell time. And while something cool may get people to a store once, selling time will get them to return.

In our latest Consumer Fuels Survey, we asked for insights and opinions on more than 100 questions related to our industry. Beyond the basics, we wanted to know how people felt about offers like frictionless checkout, mobile checkout, delivery and on-demand fueling.

Consumers are interested in these offers and we wanted to know why: could it save time, save money, or it was cool? We overwhelmingly heard that they liked emerging technologies because they save time. Every single new technology saw time savings as the most important attribute, with saving money as a distant second. And cool? Well, they were indifferent. They wanted to see how it enriched their lives.

That doesn’t mean today’s wow experience needs to be shorter. In some instances, it’s longer, particularly as more stores are getting larger and adding in-store seating. Today, “wow” is more about the customer defining how they choose to spend time with you—and about you making sure that time is quality time.  

Jeff Lenard has seen a lot of “wow” moments during his 20-plus years with NACS. He is the vice president of strategic industry initiatives and can be reached at