Recently Watt participated in a Shop! Retail Decoded podcast to discuss convenience stores during the time of COVID-19 and what effects the virus has had on the industry. While traditional retail stores were forced to close due to countrywide quarantines, convenience stores were deemed essential and stayed in operation throughout the pandemic, yet they still faced many challenges of their own.
Along with fellow industry experts, panelist Vince Guzzi, Managing Partner at Watt, shared his insights on how convenience stores have been faring during the pandemic. In his view, the convenience store concept has lent itself to being appropriately positioned, in many ways, to take advantage of COVID-19. Being small and nimble has allowed them to pivot quickly and set up ecommerce platforms, curbside pickup, and home delivery options. Many are conveniently located with easy and safe street access, and being smaller in size has made crowd control easier to manage. Their convenient operating hours – earlier to open and later to close – has made them easily accessible. And their proximity to customers has allowed them to effectively address their number one priority – to get in and out of a store as quickly and safely as possible when they choose to go in at all.
Reporting data indicates that, in the USA, “quick trip” shopping missions at convenience stores have increased by 26% during COVID and over 50% of convenience stores have reported big jumps in the grocery side of their business. Convenience stores are seeing an 8-10% increase in grocery shopping traffic. Grocery staples like eggs, milk and butter have seen vast spikes in sales at convenience stores – in the range of 40-50%. The drug and dollar stores have also reaped similar benefits.
Vince noted that stores are trending smaller and the “stay close to home” key emotional need is one that convenience stores are well-positioned to capitalize on. To do so, this will require:
- Accelerating technology investment to capture data that will strengthen understanding of the shopper in the catchment area in order to build relationships and drive loyalty
- Right-sizing assortments to meet local market needs more effectively and own the pantry and convenience food needs of customers
- Expanding beyond categories traditionally expected from the channel (e.g. expanded pantry offerings, baked goods, and fresh items, such as, meat, vegetables, fruits)
- Deploying digital POP systems in partnership with suppliers to jointly collect and share information
- Developing marketing programs that highlight their connection to communities and inform consumers about expanded assortments for everyday fill-in needs
- Designing future stores that are more thoughtful, customer-centric and one that considers the micro-diverse needs and shop types of consumers
- Deploying self-serve solutions as much as possible
- Optimizing curbside and BOPIS and properly integrating them into the overall shopping experience
To hear more insights on what has worked, what hasn’t, and what to expect of convenience stores going forward, tune in to the full podcast below.