Despite the challenges presented to businesses in the past year and a half, one somewhat bright spot has been performance in convenience stores. Thanks to recognition of c-stores as an essential business, nationwide they were able to grow sales in edible and non-edible grocery, general merchandise and health and beauty categories.
Much of this growth can be contributed to safety concerns, as c-stores may not have been as crowded, and had fewer out-of-stocks than the larger format retailers. So, what steps need to be taken to ensure c-stores continue this upward trajectory? Here are a few suggestions, based on Convenience Store News’ Industry Report 2021:
1. Make customer safety a primary focus.
While you may not have the space to reinvent placement and/or floor layout, you can make small changes that help customers enjoy a safer experience. Review your flow to ensure your shoppers have room to stay distanced, with visible cues, such as policy signage, sanitization stations, etc. to show the ways you are protecting your shoppers’ health.
2. Make a connection.
COVID isolation has been difficult for most people. The lack of social interaction, as well as staying at home for long periods have added to general stress and the feeling of going “stir crazy”. Even the most introverted of introverts are seeking human interaction.
On top of that, there is a continued labor shortage, which means you cannot afford to ignore your employees’ wellbeing as they take care of your customers. Along with the increase in wages, there are small changes, including regular training and physical support when interacting with customers, to help employees feel secure while working with occasionally sensitive or irritable customers.
3. Provide a faster experience.
After the last year and a half, the explosion of online shopping has given consumers the expectation of fast responses from online ordering, requiring many to become accustomed to same-day or next-day shipping. Speed has become an expectation. This, combined with a general shopper desire to not be in close proximity of other customers for long periods of time, a quicker check-out experience is paramount.
One simple change in-store can impact these suggestions together, possibly improving the way your business runs in the future. By replacing the plain black and white retail price/description tags on shelves with a color image shelf strip of the product, retail outlets can improve their speed and quality of shopper visits. How?
First, customers typically go into a store knowing what they need. The ability to quickly locate the product and match it with the correct retail price can be the difference between a seamless transaction and clogging an aisle (with frustration and possible purchase abandonment). Further, image tags/strips have proven to reduce out of stocks and face-overs. Image tags ensure that your layout matches your planogram and the items customers want are in stock and in the correct location, giving the customer a better experience overall.
Next, with today’s current labor shortage, many chains are running into issues securing professional reset crews to stock their shelves in a timely manner. Utilizing image strips allows a store to utilize existing staff to reset shelves without requiring the expertise or time required to read detailed planogram layouts. Your employees can spend more time taking care of customers rather than managing the supply on shelves. Also, the register operates more effectively because customers will not need to fill the check-out area to verify prices that are not clear on the shelf.
Finally, image strips and tags enable the customer to quickly and easily find the product and price, which enables a smoother transaction that helps to naturally provide a faster and easier shopping experience for your customers.
Plus, in addition to all these benefits listed, many of the costs related to creating image strips and tags can be offset by outsourcing the cost of image strips/tags to vendors. Your customers win, your employees win, and you win, all at no additional cost and minimal effort to you. (Be sure to check with your vendor partners for details on their funding programs for image strips and tags!)
All in all, while the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have been difficult for everyone, c-stores have had some early successes by making it easy for shoppers to find and purchase the items they need. And a good store layout, with shelf edge programs that include images on product strips, have helped to drive more sales in this category.