Convenience stores, commonly referred to as C-stores, have long been a go-to spot for filling up one's gas tank, buying overpriced household items, and grabbing junk food on the go. However, with the rise of electric vehicles and growing interest in healthier eating among consumers, C-stores are being forced to evolve and align with consumers' evolving definition of convenience.
Convenience is a relative term, and over the years, C-stores have changed to cater to changing consumer preferences, introducing a wide range of snack foods, coffee bars, and even beer caves. Now, however, consumers are seeking more options for healthy food, low-fuel consumption, and seamless digital experiences. They want a store that provides curbside pickup, drive-thru, and delivery services. With the advent of electric vehicles, consumers are no longer just looking for a place to fuel up and grab a quick bite. Instead, they want an attractive space to relax in while their car recharges, with options for meals that cater to their dietary needs (such as organic, vegan, and gluten-free).
In response to these changing consumer needs, some C-stores are becoming highway destinations. For example, Buc-ee's, a rapidly growing chain in the southern United States, boasts of large stores (some over 65,000 square feet), clean bathrooms, and numerous gas pumps. The pandemic has had a profound impact on consumer behavior, and C-store retailers are now searching for new ways to enhance the customer experience. Here are some of the latest trends shaping the future of C-stores.
Rural Convenience Convenience stores have traditionally been located in large urban centers, but they have also been an essential option for rural residents. Unfortunately, in rural America, the number of grocery stores per capita has decreased by 40 percent since 1990, according to a USDA report. This presents a significant opportunity for C-store retailers to enter rural communities and provide residents with much-needed modern convenience options.
Destination C-Stores The success of Buc-ee's, a rapidly expanding convenience store chain, has shown that destination C-stores are in demand. Buc-ee's targets road warriors and commuters, with each location being off the highway, typically in suburban areas and not allowing commercial trucks. Their doors are open 24/7, providing travelers with clean bathrooms, essentials, ready-to-eat meals, groceries, and even gifts.
Changing Fuel Needs The growth of electric and hybrid vehicles is having a significant impact on C-stores, as an estimated 40 percent of them are attached to gas stations. With more electric vehicles on the road, C-stores need to adapt to the changing needs of their customers. Rather than just being a place to fuel up, C-stores must become welcoming spaces where customers can relax and be satisfied with their experience.
In-House Delivery While C-stores are still the most frequently visited brick-and-mortar retail locations in the US, consumers are also seeking delivery services. The most successful C-store brands will utilize their own mobile apps to provide a seamless customer experience, allowing customers to order and pay for made-to-order meals, gourmet coffee, convenience items, and fuel.
Healthy Food, Frictionless Experience C-stores are catering to an increasingly health-conscious clientele, and it's a smart move. A recent report from management consulting firm Oliver Whyman found that 68 percent of consumers would visit C-stores more frequently if they offered healthy sandwiches and salads. For example, Foxtrot, a Chicago-based upscale C-store startup, offers a wide range of local and curated goods, freshly prepared foods for pickup
To secure a loyal customer base, c-stores must be flexible and adjust to evolving definitions of convenience. Today's consumers prioritize access to healthy grab-and-go food options, cashless payment methods, and spaces to relax. With many grocery stores closing in rural areas, there's a significant chance for innovative c-store concepts to emerge. Brands that can cater to this growing demand for convenience, through innovative payment and delivery options, are poised to dominate the market in the future.