Too early? Too optimistic? Maybe, but the alternative can be difficult to swallow after eight long months of uncertainty. During this time, the convenience industry has aggressively engaged in application advancement, curbside pick-up, delivery and modifying existing buildings and sites to accommodate drive-throughs. We even had one of our clients transition their operations in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) world (Wawa Inc., 2020). Those actions leave me optimistic because that is what successful business owners do when faced with opposition. They adapt, invent, and re-invent through adversity.
In recent years, the convenience market has been in an acquisition race and according to Convenience Store News, has left just six companies that are owner/operators of 1,000 stores or more, eight with 500-1,000 stores and just 35 with 100-500 stores. I believe this consolidation has helped insulate the market during this economic storm but has also made it a challenge for those who may be outside of that Top 50.
So, what is that “thing” that can be the equalizer for all owner/operators in the convenience industry post-COVID? Frictionless checkout. This technology was all the talk in 2018 as Amazon Go stores began to open in Seattle. Our R&D team invested a significant amount of time analyzing systems and suppliers to better inform our clients. As we presented these findings to various partners, there was a general sense that it was a little too trendy and perhaps, too gimmicky. In areas where the demographics were tech-centric, maybe. But is that also true for typical suburban US markets?
We are fortunate to work with some of the largest retailers and grocers in the country, so we have a great sounding board when the “next big thing” comes along. Perhaps jumping in with the early adopters on such a significant customer and operational shift did not make the most sense. However, if COVID-19 has proven anything, it has shown how quickly we adapt.
When Ricker’s convenience stores implemented frictionless checkout technology into their 58 convenience stores in 2018, they had no lens what a post-pandemic world would look like. Circle K, recently announced their launch of Mastercard’s new frictionless checkout product. And while they (like the rest of us) can’t say with certainty what happens next, they are hedging their bets that although humanity will still desire human interaction in a post-COVID world, we will likely appreciate a few less contact points. This may only be one type of technology but according to Capgeminie Research Institute, 60% of consumers believe that long queues are a major pain point that customers face in stores while only 33% of retailers agree. This research also notes that 59% of consumers who have previously visited stores with automation would shift purchases to a store with automation technologies if they had a positive experience.
With this type of data in mind, we dusted off those notes and have re-engaged vendors to help ensure that we both are up-to-speed on the advancements those early adopters made. In the end, our goal is to educate and assist our clients enabling them for success in a post-COVID world.