Three C-Store Trends That Are Driving The Industry Forward

Each year, shifting C-store customer tastes and preferences are a chance to anticipate new trends, generate a buzz, and create long-lasting customer loyalty through differentiation and product quality.

Going, Going, Gone Digital

The digital lifestyle is firmly established in the U.S. and internationally, with an estimated 70% of the world’s population—more than 5 billion people—owning a mobile device by 2020. In 2015, the percentage of customers using some form of mobile pay increased from 25% to 39%—a huge jump. To meet the needs of customers, C-stores must find ways to integrate with a fully connected customer base— cashless options beyond the credit card such as mobile pay, digital wallet and other forms of electronic payment. A convenience store, after all, is about convenience, and the less a customer has to dig through her purse to find change or the correct credit card, the more pleasant her shopping experience can be. With this in mind, some C-stores have released digital apps that can alert customers to the store’s proximity, inform them of the latest promotions, and even offer directions.

Mobile payments offer other advantages as well, such as more accurate bookkeeping, fewer labor hours spent, and increased foot traffic from customers who have come to view the digitally current C-store as being “ahead of the curve.”

Health First

America is more health-conscious than ever, and the challenge for C-stores is to remain “convenient” while striving to think beyond the ready-to-eat (RTE) meal. Taking this to heart, six C-store chains, boasting about 1,000 retail locations between them, have partnered with the nonprofit Partnership for A Healthier America (PHA) in an effort to introduce fresher, healthier food options to their stores. The benefits are myriad and multi-dimensional: not only have C-store owners seen a strong uptick in certain customer demographics such as women and young adults, but the C-store has suddenly earned an opportunity to improve its reputation and join the national fight against obesity.

A recent NACS survey learned that 53% of the approximately 160 million American consumers who enter a C-store each day claim they would increase their visits if the store offered healthier food options. With stats like this, the choice to embrace wellness is clear.

Getting Crafty

Customers are responding to creative and independent product sourcing—they are often excited by alternatives to highly recognized brands; the independent brand implies rarity and specialness, its products inferred to be higher quality and more innovative. One revenue-driving brand opportunity for C-stores lies in craft beer. According to Nielsen, craft beer has seen a 10-percent volume increase in the past year and a 15-percent dollar gain. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it has brought a crucial boost in younger customers, who will sometimes pick up their beer purchases for the entire week during a single visit.