Third-party delivery integration in the c-store: How to make the process simpler

Published April 28, 2021

Before the pandemic, convenience stores were on track to adopt third-party delivery services. Major apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, UberEats and others were signing deals and partnerships with big c-store brands. The future was gearing up for a new business model—one that blended brick-and-mortar business with same-day delivery options. Then, COVID-19 pressed the gas pedal on it.

Today, consumers don’t spend as much time driving or visiting public places. This is both a problem and opportunity for your c-store; you want to ensure customer safety, maintain high-quality service and give your customers options in their shopping experience. Integrating a third-party delivery service is one way of solving these issues. 

Related: Five ways c-stores can enhance the customer experience

Convenience stores are using third-party, same-day delivery for customers


The rush toward third-party delivery seems like a brand-new phenomenon, but, as mentioned before, it’s been growing over the last several years. One significant turning point was 2017, when the number of retailers offering same-day delivery tripled, mostly due to increasing technological capacities of the delivery platforms.

Using a third-party platform helps c-stores offset the logistical and technical limitations of doing it themselves; building a platform from scratch for ordering and delivery is a major investment of time and resources. Then you have to optimize the system so it’s user-friendly, easy to adopt and efficient—a feat by itself. Then there are the logistical concerns like hiring drivers, developing fulfillment centers and training teams, among other considerations.

But now, third-party delivery providers like GrubHub have broken those barriers. And c-store brands are paying attention. Wawa, for example, piloted and then minted their partnership with Grubhub between 2017 and 2018. There’s also 7-Eleven, whose  partnership with DoorDash has been widely publicized; they started testing DoorDash in five major markets in 2017—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and D.C.—and went on to expand from there.

Prior to COVID-19, this increase in third-party delivery adoption was already poised for atmospheric growth. Pre-pandemic, it was predicted that more than 50% of c-store brands would offer digital ordering and delivery options by 2023. But the global health crisis put it into overdrive, with c-store brands like 7-Eleven, Circle K and Casey’s General Store having to accelerate rollout of delivery services at the start of the pandemic. 

What customer values are growing the demand for third-party delivery?


There’s nothing worse than ordering a cheesesteak with no onions and extra fries—and then getting a cheesesteak with extra onions and zero fries. Indeed, customers who use third-party delivery cite inaccurate orders as one of their major concerns, with more than 40 percent of customers reporting issues with their delivery. When this happens, the customer is more likely to blame your store instead of the delivery provider, no matter who is actually at fault.

That means it’s paramount for c-store brands to solve order accuracy issues. They’re trusting your staff’s judgment and ability to pick or cook the items they specifically asked for and securely hand them off to the delivery driver. There’s a lot of room for error in this process, and the delivery service can solve some of the issues.

Customers also expect clear communication in the delivery process. They want to know when their order is ready, on its way and delivered. This is a point of control customers want to hold on to, and you should be concerned with providing it to them. Partnering with the third-party service can help bolster communication. You should also assess how communication on your store’s end can be as clear, concise and accurate as possible. 

Customers want options, too. If you go into a store and decide you’re tired of your usual three p.m. soft drink pick-me-up, you might grab an iced tea instead. That’s because people really value having choices whether they walk into a convenience store or order online. Especially when it comes to establishing and maintaining brand loyalty, choice needs to be a priority. So you should look to make it easy for them to navigate their options. 

Speaking of speed, your c-store—by its very nature—is designed to be quick and convenient. Customers want this same experience in delivery as well. In the third-party delivery experience, this means both the app interaction and the delivery experience must be quick, relatively speaking.

The process of implementing third-party delivery for convenience stores


So, how does your c-store go about implementing third-party delivery? Researching which delivery services to choose from and their benefits is a good start.

And there are a lot of third-party delivery services to choose from—some more niche than others. The most popular are the “Big Four”: DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats and Grubhub.

These companies comprise 75% of the order-and-delivery market and operate in most metropolitan areas. Because of their size, existing infrastructure and logistics, any of the Big Four might be ideal partners. It should be noted, however, that your c-store might have to compete with some of these services’ own convenience delivery programs. In recent years, for example, DoorDash has implemented its own c-store fulfillment branch, known as DashMart.

Ranking services by popularity might provide an incentive in choosing. In a UK survey of almost 3,000 consumers, Grubhub, UberEats and DoorDash were ranked as the top delivery apps, in that order. But there’s also the operating market to consider. For example, UberEats is more popular in Atlanta, Grubhub dominates New York and DoorDash is on top in San Francisco.

You should also be concerned with rates of return on your investment. While all of these delivery apps are popular, they are not all created equal. UberEats has among the highest level of average monthly transactions but sees a relatively low monthly spend rate per consumer. Going with the most popular platform might not necessarily provide the best return.

Beginning the process of adding third-party delivering to your c-stores


Once you understand the market that exists, the next step is preparation. Adopting a third-party delivery service is not an overnight task. Convenience store brands need to consider:

  • Features they want from the delivery service
  • The opportunities and costs of adoption
  • What long-term success looks like

Developing a comprehensive plan is the first step to adding a third-party delivery service to your c-store. This plan should include your requirements for the service you choose to go with and your goals for adoption. Ask important questions and use the answers to guide your planning. What do you hope to achieve by adding third-party delivery? How will it impact your brand? Answering these questions is necessary for clarifying your organization’s needs going forward.

Comprehensive pros and cons lists should also be a part of your planning. Some third-party apps provide services that others won’t. Also, the cost of adopting any solution may risk profitability. Lucrative items like tobacco and alcohol still cannot, by law, be delivered in most states. Also, the incentive for impulse purchasing while in store is no longer there, decreasing sales per receipt.

Services like DoorDash and UberEats also have financial costs worth addressing. UberEats, for example, can charge up to 30 percent of every check that comes into a store. This is a lot of revenue to lose when the average convenience store sale is around $9. That being said, these services also have the capacity to boost awareness of your c-store and potentially increase sales volumes. You might also retain consumers who have good delivery experiences with your brand more easily.

Should you expand foodservice?


Third-party delivery is, by nature, a disruption to your convenience store’s regular order of business. With delivery in place, options present themselves for expanding your business and offerings to meet the new and changing needs of your consumers. Stores like Wawa and Sheetz, for example, have offered food service for years with great success. When considering partnering up with a delivery app, this might be an opportunity to branch out. 

Related: A full-sized Texas BBQ smack in the middle of a c-store? How retailers are reinventing convenience with foodservice and more.

If your c-store brand is going to expand into food service, however, it has to be done well. Just like in a restaurant setting, customers have certain expectations. They want quality, consistency and value in their food service experience—remember, you’ll be competing with quick service restaurants, so getting it right is key.

Selling and marketing products for same-day delivery


To effectively sell and market products for same-day delivery, it’s critical to focus on the customer journey and their experience. It’s all about convenience; whether in a brick-and-mortar store or via delivery, customers anticipate a convenient and easy experience. The longer and more complicated the process is, the less likely consumers using third-party delivery apps are going to gravitate toward your offerings.

It’s also important to remember the reasons why a customer would come into your c-store in the first place. Often, it’s to grab something quick, like a drink or a snack. Other times consumers are using the convenience of your store to cover gaps in between larger shopping trips.

Quick and affordable roll-out of your own e-commerce program


Convenience store brands need a flexible, feature-rich platform that enables rapid processing of digital orders to compete in the order-and-deliver space. Finding the right platform means understanding what you want, what your customers want and where you can get it. 

Be comprehensive in your requirements before adopting a third-party delivery solution. What are the features you’re looking for? What’s your price range? What is your timeline for adoption and implementation? Taking the answers to these questions and examining all your options will give you the clearest look at which solution is right for your brand.

Seek to build brand loyalty with third-party delivery


As mentioned earlier, there are major opportunities for c-stores to enhance customer loyalty with delivery apps. Providing this service to customers and ensuring their orders are accurate, on-time, and quick can endear consumers to your brand. However, there is some level of risk when it comes to interfacing with these apps.

Related: Mondays used to mean slow business for one c-store. Here’s what fixed it.

For users, delivery apps often have more than one retailer option to choose from. The consumer therefore may build loyalty not necessarily with your brand, but the app. And especially if delivery problems happen, customer abandonment is a very real prospect—even if it wasn’t your fault. Keeping an eye on these problems is necessary for long-term growth with delivery services. These problems do get balanced out by the fact that many delivery services help your brand reach more customers.

For smaller c-stores, getting started with a third-party delivery service can be as easy as setting up an account on their website. For larger brands, however, a lot more work needs to be done upfront, and that usually means working with a technology partner. But by understanding the current state of the market, how COVID is accelerating it and the process for delivery service implementation, your c-store can position itself for growth and success in the years to come.

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