For well over a decade it seems, we have been reading and hearing that the supermarkets, drug stores and even mass merchandisers are stealing the convenience store channel’s customers. At last check, there are more c-stores today than a decade ago. So how do we explain this seeming dichotomy?
We all know the steps other retail channels have taken over the past years to become more convenient: adding fueling stations, moving “grab and go” items to the front, stocking “on the go” package sizes, and installing self-checkout scanning stations. And yet, the c-store channel has added outlets and sales have not fallen off the table. Why is that?
Let’s review the definition of convenience.
1. The quality of being suitable to one’s comfort, purposes, or needs: the convenience of living near shops, schools, and libraries.
2. Personal comfort or advantage: services that promote the customer’s convenience.
3. Something that increases comfort or saves work: household conveniences such as a washing machine, an electric can opener, and disposable diapers.
4. A suitable or agreeable time: Fill out the form at your earliest convenience.
5. Chiefly British A lavatory.
6. easy to obtain, use, or reach; made for convenience: convenience utensils that can be discarded after use.
I would submit it is still more convenient to be able to fuel my vehicle and leave it parked there while I walk less than 50 feet to the store and in less than five minutes pick up 3 or 4 items I want, pay for them, then get back in my vehicle and drive away in another few minutes.
A basic fundamental of a “convenience store” is not that there are certain items placed in a convenient location within a large building or that I can stop at the far corner of the huge parking lot to gas up my ride or that the big box contains everything and anything I might ever want or need to purchase but rather it is that the entire operation is built around and for convenience; i.e., less distance from fuel or parking spot to store; less distance to cover in the store; better sight lines around the store; focused assortment of the most popular items (in stock!) and last but certainly not least we must never underestimate the value of truly personal service engendered by the familiarity between customer and customer service representative.
We have all seen this happen, have we not? Customer walks in the door and is greeted by name. As customer approaches check out, Customer Service Representative places customer’s favorite brand of tobacco product on counter and informs customer of savings opportunity, CSR completes transaction while inquiring about customer’s day, job, family.
I have yet to walk into the nationally known supermarket chain my family shops at weekly (and has for over 15 years) and be greeted by name or have my favorite products waiting at the checkout, have you?
This is not to say there is no threat. Personally, when purchasing a limited number of items in a supermarket or mass merchandiser, I love self-checkouts. But at the same time we must not lose sight of the fact that our channel of trade has built-in advantages when it comes to customer convenience and IF we focus on those, train for those, and execute against those, we cannot be “out-convenienced.”