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The Four Biggest Takeaways from NACS You Can Use in Your C-Stores Now

By : Steven O'Toole

October 22, 2018 12:00 PM

I spent most of last week in Las Vegas, attending the annual National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show with more than 25,000 of my industry colleagues. I look forward to this event every year for unparalleled learning and networking opportunities.

 

This is a particularly exciting time to be in the business, and although there are challenges that come with the changes in consumer behavior, regulatory environments, and technology, there is also incredible opportunity for those who are willing to seize it. I was fortunate to participate as a panelist in several educational sessions, as well as attend the networking events, exhibits, and conversations with industry leaders. Four key common threads emerged:

 

  1. The store is everywhere: In many other retail sectors, the concept of “omnichannel” has become ubiquitous. However, some c-store operators thought they were immune to the need for omnichannel capabilities because this segment is dependent on brick-and-mortar sites for traffic. This is not the case. Winning brands are taking advantage of things like delivery services, mobile apps, and consumer engagement and offers at the pump to drive conversion of the 65-75% of customers who only buy fuel. By doing so, they are increasing their reach and offering value-adds that put them top of mind with consumers well beyond the weekly trip to the gas station to fuel up.
  2. It’s time to figure out food: The rise of food as a prominent part of the c-store experience isn’t new, but as margins on fuel and tobacco become less reliable, food is growing as an important driver for profits. In fact, NACS reports that convenience store foodservice contributed 22.5% of in-store sales last year. There isn’t one model that will work for every enterprise or every geography, and it’s those differences that help each brand in the space stand out. This could mean partnerships with delivery providers, automating and streamlining kitchen production or expanding kitchen capabilities, or offering a partial menu right at the pump for consumers to easily order food and convenience items. No matter what it might look like, the recurring theme echoed throughout the show was finding new ways to capitalize on food and get more than a fair “share of stomach.”
  3. Personalization is more than a buzzword: Location is still the #1 reason consumers will choose one c-store over another (44% cite it as the top reason according to NACS data). A surprisingly close second (at 43%) is a relevant loyalty program. As the battle for loyalty grows fiercer every day with the seemingly-infinite number of choices consumers have, it’s becoming critical for retailers to prove that they know their customers and can speak to them not as individuals who have varied needs, goals, and shopping missions. Are you using purchase history, preferences, and other data to offer a loyal customer the coffee (with cream, hold the sugar) she orders twice a week – before she even asks for it? Can you automate relevant and timely offers for customers who are typically fuel-only, increasing revenues and meaningful engagement?
  4. A platform approach helps enable agility and consistency: And we can’t forget about the technology infrastructure that supports all of this. One of the most common frustrations I heard last week – and that I often hear from customers – is that their enterprise is made up of disparate systems and silos that hinder a comprehensive ecosystem. This impacts everything from trying to put together a 360° view of customers, to identifying inefficiencies in everyday processes and operations, to leveraging and extending the life of current investments to strategically get them future-ready. Many retailers are investing in a platform approach. It is the cornerstone of an open and flexible IT architecture that allows them to drive toward several crucial goals: innovating and going to market with new capabilities and applications much quicker, adapting to change with less friction and frustration, and achieving consistency of services and interaction across all consumer touchpoints.

 

Whether you’re a c-store brand large or small, and no matter what’s on the runway for your near- and long-term future, I think these themes are universally applicable across the industry. To learn more about what NCR is doing to help retailers address some of these areas or to talk about issues important to your business that I may have missed, please visit us at www.ncr.com/futureproof-forecourt or contact our team at +1 404-649-0769. 

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Steven O'Toole

General Manager, Convenience and Fuel Retail Solutions at NCR

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Steven joined NCR in 2017, leading overall strategy and priorities to drive a best-of-breed solution portfolio that helps Convenience and Fuel retailers achieve their unique business objectives. He brings more than 25 years of experience with many of top Convenience and Fuel brands, such as Puma Energy, Conoco Philips, and BP