- About 74% of c-store executives believe they need to be more nimble to experiment with new ideas and adapt to changing shopper expectations, according to a new survey by Incisiv and Toshiba.
- While most of those surveyed said good, fresh food would be important to a store’s success, just 32% of them were happy with the current state of their stores’ fresh food.
- Overall, the survey highlighted a number of areas where c-store owners can test new services, iterate on what they’re already doing and fine-tune their experience to meet customers where they are.
Experimenting with improving food offerings at c-stores has been a hot topic in recent years. For example, Foxtrot recently expanded into the Austin market with three stores that include all-day cafes. The company emphasizes its “for food people” on its website, with a focus on bringing quality eats to its customers.
Meanwhile, Wawa recently beat nearly all comers — including all but one quick-service restaurant — in a customer survey on the quality of its foodservice offerings.
Expanding their fresh food offerings may feel daunting to some retailers, with only 30% of those surveyed saying they planned to make more space in their stores for fresh food prep and 25% planning to build dining space. But there are some ways to ease into the process. And as the survey said, “food offers c-stores a pathway to continued relevance.”
The September survey polled 128 c-store executives in the U.S. online or by phone, with 27% of respondents working for companies with $50 million to $250 million in revenue, 33% with $250 million to $999 million, 24% with $1 billion to $4.9 billion and 16% representing companies that bring in $5 billion or more.
Expanding e-commerce is another opportunity for experimentation and growth the survey focused on. The proliferation of delivery apps has allowed more c-stores to bring their offerings to the customer — 81% of the respondents said working with these services is important — but only 27% of them said their stores let remote customers actually see the store’s inventory digitally.
Plenty of companies are already experimenting with faster checkouts — companies like Sheetz and 7-Eleven allow people to scan and pay from their phones, and chains like Circle K, Choice Market and QuikTrip are experimenting with fully automated checkout experiences. About 26% of respondents expect to cut down on their checkout space, and the report also said “AI assisted self-checkout is set to outpace traditional self-checkout over the next 12-18 months.”
But even if a store can’t afford to upgrade its checkout systems, it can reconfigure the interior to make room for other services. This will require more frequent replenishment of shelves though, and just 38% of the respondents were happy with how quickly that was happening in their locations.
One area where c-stores showed strong numbers was in their connection to their local communities. About 62% of c-store executives surveyed see that local connection being increasingly vital to their growth, and 61% were happy with the selection of local items their stores carried. Further, some plan to make efforts to make their stores hangout spots grew as well — 27% planned to add multi-use areas outside the stores, and 19% are looking to add more outdoor dining areas. Foxtrot, in its Austin expansion, is including indoor-outdoor patio areas, and dog parks are increasingly found at locations like Love’s Travel Stops.