The Impact 21 team shares insights and experiences from the 2021 NACS Show.

Despite the pandemic, convenience retailers have seen record growth and profits. Given we were first responders per se by being open during the pandemic, we sold many new products that we hadn’t before, which offset our inability to sell foodservice (which was shut down due to self-serve) and the many fewer gallons of fuel we sold. Bottom line is that yes, there continue to be huge challenges with supply chain and labor, but the channel is growing in sales and profits. The key is maintaining it and not losing the new customers we gained during the pandemic and understanding consumer buying trends and how they have changed.

Convenience store leaders looking for technology, products, and services at the 2021 NACS Show were not disappointed. Here is a brief snapshot of what our team gleaned from the show.

Workforce & Brand

♦ Convenience is resilient, but success is now, more than ever, dependent on culture and people. Labor continues to be the #1 cost and challenge for retailers with so many leaving the workforce following the pandemic. Attracting and retaining employees is a major challenge and retailers are using culture, flexible benefits, and social purpose, in addition to competitive pay.

♦ Designing and implementing a brand strategy is foundational to a retailer’s success and most are recognizing the need to develop this and the value it brings.

♦ Brands are looking for ways to differentiate their convenience concepts to attract loyal customers. It was exciting to see so many new products and services available to the convenience industry. We saw examples of retailers offering multiple foodservice concepts, liquor stores and breweries, and more all within one retailer brand. These new formats can retain existing demographics and help attract new ones.

Supply Chain

♦ Supply chain continues to be the biggest challenge by far for all retailers. Many retailers don’t expect it to be resolved by next year, so they are looking at alternatives to traditional channels and ways to go to market.

♦ Many retailers are responding to supply chain challenges by focusing on improvements to demand planning and replenishment. Inconsistent supply chain processes prior to the pandemic have been magnified since the start of 2020. Again, tech solutions using AI and ML can do this efficiently and profitably.

Technology

♦ Frictionless and self-checkout systems have emerged in the channel and are being implemented and/or tested by retailers. While technologies and analytics differ among solutions, all are attempting to provide a seamless checkout and payment system that provide retailers differentiation and consumers convenience. Frictionless self-checkout, and “just walk out” solutions are making inroads with many different types of technology being tested by large retailers.

♦ Online ordering, in-store and curbside pickup, and delivery continue to present many opportunities and challenges. While retailers are implementing and/or testing solutions and partners, they have struggled to implement satisfactory levels from the customer perspective and from an efficiency standpoint. Both tech solutions and service providers continue to develop valid solutions.

♦ Tech and safety come together with a new age verification system called NACS TruAge™. It helps retailers protect their employees from selling age-restricted products to minors and increases speed at the checkout.

♦ This past year verified the rapid adoption of mobile technology and the positive impact on the customer experience. Convenience has traditionally been slower to adopt newer technologies, but the consumer now demands all the typical elements of “convenience” (location, price, and speed). A strong mobile technology strategy includes mobile payments, mobile ordering, and an integrated loyalty program.

♦ AI and ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, respectively) are no longer buzz words. Most technologies have embedded one or both in varying degrees into their solutions. Retailers are realizing the operational and financial benefits of AI and ML, and how these can enhance their businesses.

♦ Many retailers are challenged with extracting data from existing systems into some form of a dashboard, as well as gleaning the insights necessary to drive profitable decisions. There is no shortage of tech companies and solutions who can make this happen more easily.

Unified Commerce

♦ Retailers are addressing siloed or disjointed customer experiences and friction points due to misalignment of disparate customer engagement, service technologies, and apps. Creating seamless customer experiences with a single view of the customer enables retailers to make better decisions on the performance of products, marketing, and messaging.

♦ In addition to changes in systems, the success of this journey requires changes across people and processes to create an agile and adaptive organization focused on the customer.

♦ Areas where unified commerce can have the greatest impact include:

  • Loyalty programs and apps
  • eCommerce websites
  • App and online ordering
  • Curbside / instore pick up
  • Self-checkout / frictionless commerce
  • Kiosks (instore services cue, customer lookups, eCommerce)
  • Program and content management to bring consistent brand, loyalty, and category promotional messaging in line across all UC systems
  • Traditional payments alignment with emerging technologies

Foodservice Strategy

♦ The effect of the Pandemic has retailers looking to what will stick and what will return to normal in for foodservice. In response, they are elevating safety commitment to foodservice and implementing new approaches and delivery mechanisms for offering food to put the customers at ease.

♦ Many retailers continue to push into food, but question whether they are as profitable as they could be. Those with many different store sizes are seeking strategies to help them with the right offering that can be leveraged across their entire portfolio. Designing the most efficient foodservice model involves menu optimization, work design, kitchen layout, reporting visibility, production/forecasting, and people strategy.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

♦ Retailers are understanding the importance of SEO and content management to engage customers across disparate search engines and apps.

♦ NACS continues its efforts to provide technology and services to small to mid-size retailers. Its latest effort will be coming in 2022 in partnership with Yext, who will offer search engine optimization. This is not traditional SEO based on keywords, but the ability to have consistent content for your business aligned on all social media and other channels. This enables consumers to search for information and find immediate results to their specific questions.

New Products

♦ For the first time, the NACS Show utilized an app that generated frictionless interaction with products. Based on scans on the floor, NACS was able to present the top Cool New Products at the Show.

    1. Mashgin: The Touchless Checkout System
    2. Naturipe Farms LLC: Naturipe Snacks™—Berry Parfait and Boost Bentos & Bliss Bentos
    3. Lancer Worldwide: IBD Bold 30i
    4. Toysmith: Joy Tower 360
    5. The SAM Machine Corp. dba SAM Corp.: The SAM Machine
    6. C4®: C4 Energy
    7. Anchor Packaging: Crisp Food Technologies® Fry Baby®
    8. 5-hour Energy: 5-hour ENERGY: Innovation in on-the-go products
    9. David’s Cookies: Individually Packaged Retail Ready Products

Get in on the Game!

Want to learn more about the trends and technologies you can use to improve your business? Speak to an Impact 21 team member who understands your business and has the expertise to guide you.