Joe Thompson, founder of 7-Eleven, has said that convenience is simply to give customers:
- What they want (be relevant)
- When they want it
- Where they want it
And, as I see it, how they want it is today’s fourth basic principle of convenience.
After almost three months of COVID-19, any presentation you saw on convenience market trends before the lockdown may no longer be the guiding star to navigate today’s “new normal.” Why? Customers and their behaviors have fundamentally changed.
As convenience retailers, we need to change our understanding of the four fundamental principles of convenience and their implications to shoppers.
Let’s start with Where:
Will more people work from home and commute less in the future? Three months ago, I thought that big railway stations were the safest place to be if you were a convenience player in Scandinavia. Now, I am not so sure. And what about airports? Will business travel be the same again? Or will people need places near home to pick up their lunch? If people spend more free time in their own country and commute less, will the travel pattern for motorists change? What will be the best future real estate locations? Or, as a friend of mine in Denmark expressed, “Because of the crisis, good locations will be available that you couldn’t get before the lockdown.”
This leads us into When:
If people commute less, the old peak hours may be less important. The lunch occasion may be more important. If people work more from home or spend more of their free time near home, will there be more afternoon and weekend traffic?
Changes in the “where” and “when” have us rethinking the What:
The importance of the various dayparts may not be the same—something that will directly impact your product mix. Will food-to-go be less important? What about take-home items versus items you eat at or near the store? Will people visit restaurants less often than they did, giving convenience a new take-home or home delivery market opportunity? How important will be the market for grocery items near the home? And, of course, items like face masks and hand sanitizers will be a natural part of our product lineup moving forward. In Norway and some other countries, there is also an increasing consumer preference for local products, and that may impact the range of products we offer in the long term.
The How, may also be quite different.
Will the customer expect higher, new standards for hygiene and cleanliness? Pre-packaged fresh foods may be more important and made-in-store less important. How will this shift impact future discussions on the use of plastic packaging? Or, will this challenge us to develop different types of packaging for the take-home or home delivery market?
So far, home delivery is not widely prevalent in Scandinavia, but it has experienced steep growth during the global health crisis. Beyond delivery, how will in-store operations be impacted? Will we need to improve our eat-in spaces, payment systems, queuing systems and other operations to reduce contact? Currently, less than 10% of all transactions in Scandinavia are cash-based, but contactless payments have also increased during the lockdown. And, last but not least, could a weaker economy moving forward impact our pricing strategies?
Although the challenges created by the pandemic are many and will take some time to resolve, I believe that the “new normal” will create many opportunities for innovation and differentiation for convenience retailers willing and able to understand the consumer of tomorrow and meet their needs.