The Road Ahead for Fuel and Convenience Stores

As c-store retailers look beyond this year’s challenges and prepare for what’s up next, there’s a fury of possibilities that come to mind. 

The convenience store industry has adapted to many disruptive changes these past few years, ranging from creating new experiential stores for customers, meeting the EMV compliance deadline in October, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic

As c-store retailers look beyond this year’s challenges and prepare for what’s up next, there’s a fury of possibilities that come to mind. 

As with any retail sector, convenience stores need to adapt to consumers’ evolving needs and prioritize their strategies to appeal to these new preferences. Additionally, while traditional gasoline and diesel fuels still dominate, the rise of alternatives like electrical and hydrogen-powered cars are gaining traction.

How will the shift in fuel alternatives affect the role of convenience stores? And what can c-store retailers do to stay ahead of these trends?

Here are a few ways advancements in technology and fuel will drive the industry forward.

New Opportunities with Fuel Alternatives

According to Edison Electric Institute, the number of electrical vehicles (EVs) on the road is projected to reach 18.7 million in 2030, up from 1 million at the end of 2018. To support this growth, about 9.6 million charge ports will be required, representing a significant investment in EV-charging infrastructure. 

With the growing popularity of EVs, more and more consumers will need a convenient location to charge their cars. As it takes longer to electrically charge a car than a traditional gas fuel-up, c-store retailers have a unique opportunity here to lure consumers into their stores while their car is parked at the charging station. 

Furthermore, hydrogen-powered cars and biofuels are said to become the renewable energy sources of the future. If that’s the case, hydrogen fuel cells will need to build an infrastructure that would also serve as a way for c-stores to tap into clean energy and cut its carbon footprint.

As a result, these new business models mean that the store of the future will evolve into creating engaging experiences that can withstand even fundamental changes like new fuel types. 

For example, c-store retailers can expand food offerings, offer full-service in-store coffee shops or provide new forms of entertainment like breweries and kid play areas that can keep shoppers occupied while their car charges. By adapting to the changes fuel alternatives will bring, c-store retailers can future-proof their current store and infrastructure, winning customer loyalty and generating additional revenue.  

C-store operators have already identified automation, next-level delivery, frictionless checkout and mobile apps as the most promising technologies.

More than Just a Pit Stop

Convenience stores are already starting to become more than just places to fuel up and maybe grab a quick drink or snack. Many have now evolved to offer upscale facilities with modern customer experiences. 

The industry has made major strides to improve its overall value and public perception, and changes in technology have played a big role in this transformation. It’s only a matter of time when the shift will escalate as a result of the innovations happening in the fuel industry. 

In fact, c-store operators have already identified automation, next-level delivery, frictionless checkout and mobile apps as the most promising and profit-driving technologies. 

7-Eleven is now testing cashierless stores and drone delivery in an effort to remain at the forefront of innovation and customer engagement. 

As these technologies grow and gain popularity, the c-store shopping experience will focus almost entirely on experiential retail and creating a frictionless customer journey.  

To meet customer demands, convenience store retailers will have to find ways to make the store as easy, painless and exciting as possible. 

Shoppers will expect to quickly grab to-go items off the shelf, and retailers have the opportunity to deliver on this by making the point-of-sale speedy and reliable, whether it’s mimicking an Amazon Go-like model or deploying mobile retail concepts to eliminate pain points, especially long lines and wait times. 

Personalized customer service can also be made possible with valuable shopper data and insights, making it simple to cater orders, deals and recommendations to each individual customer as soon as they walk in the door.

The fight for a more sustainable future in the automotive industry will surely impact the convenience store market, and retailers need to be prepared for what’s ahead by continuously innovating and creating new opportunities to excite customers with a frictionless experience no matter the journey, or the vehicle used to get there. 

Michael Jaszczyk is CEO of GK Software USA.

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