This article, authored by Impact 21’s Tom Newbould, originally appeared in the January 2022 edition of CSP Magazine

“The wild ride we’ve been on these past two years has brought many changes, forcing everyone from single-store convenience-store operators to major retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s and even the big behemoth Amazon to adjust their operating models.

Without a doubt, all channels can expect the way they do business to continue to evolve as we move forward toward a new normal and seek solutions to supply issues, labor challenges and the explosion of options customers now have and expect.

Customer expectations have changed dramatically from early 2020, and will continue to evolve in 2022.

Here are four areas where I see opportunity for improvement as we enter the new year.

Foodservice

Food continues to be a winning strategy that many retailers aspire to, yet a minority of c-store operators have developed the processes, systems and culture to do it effectively or profitably. Fortunately, manufacturers are developing unique products to help retailers may not want nor have the capacity for a made-to-order program or partnership with a branded offer.

One of the biggest challenges is finding the correct offer for all store sizes and types while providing a consistent program for the consumer. Some retailers, big and small, have found the right strategy, even without a made-to-order offer or branded QSR. Food is not something that you can tackle overnight. It takes planning, organization, training, supply chain, etc. If you want it, commit to it.

Labor/Culture

Just about everyone in retail is feeling the labor crunch. How are the best-in-class companies handling it? It’s not just about bumping up the hourly rate. More than ever, career paths, tuition reimbursement, flexible hours, full benefit packages, and stay-on bonuses are just the base level for gaining and retaining employees.

As a result, employee expectations have never been higher. But there are select retailers who are not feeling these same pains. They are facing the issue head-on and shifting company culture when needed by showing their commitment to employees and customers.

For others, reaching best-in-class status may require dramatic changes to culture. It’s a process that requires time and investment, but with the right plan, you can get there quickly.

Supply Chain

Supply chain continues to be the biggest challenge by far for all retailers, and many don’t expect it to be resolved soon. As a result, inconsistent supply-chain processes from before the pandemic have been magnified.

One-way retailers are responding to these challenges is by focusing on improving demand planning and replenishment. Getting the right products to the correct sites is a way to keep sales coming in and customers satis­fied. This is a place where arti­ficial intelligence and machine learning can help improve efficiency and profitability.

The Experience

If I could focus on only one of these items long term, it would be customer experience.

Eventually supply-chain issues will subside, and the labor market will loosen up, but if retailers can connect with their customers with a uni­fied message through the evolution of technology, that will put them ahead.

The pandemic has created new ways to engage the customer, and there so many ways to communicate with them. Loyalty, digital screens in stores, traditional advertising, delivery apps, touchless- and self-checkout— the innovation goes on.

With it all, speed of service can improve, even equipment improves record-keeping and sales insights. Uni­fed commerce is truly the way forward.”

Tom Newbould

Tom Newbould

Senior Principal Consultant

Tom Newbould has an incredible knowledge of the ever-changing landscape of the retail markets and has worn many hats throughout his 30 plus year career. A true expert in the c-stores, travel centers, and truckstop industry.

Read more about Tom here.