What do a fried chicken food truck, a drive-thru convenience store, and a clothing collaboration between 7- Eleven and Forever 21 have in common? They’re all part of the latest wave of tactics that convenience retail has rolled out in response to a changing industry. With space at a premium, small format stores have had to be creative in how they approach social distancing accommodations and new consumer shopping trends.
The c-store has continued in its direction of new store formats. Building upon concept stores like 7-Eleven’s gourmet location in Washington DC and Hy-Vee’s supermarket-convenience hybrids, these new formats allow retailers to garner attention and test features before broadly implementing them.
Spinx Food Truck
If customers can’t reach your store, then one way to circumvent the problem is to bring your store to them. Normally, the answer has been e-commerce, but convenience retail operates differently from supermarkets who feature integrated delivery and curbside pickup services. For South Carolina retailer Spinx, the solution was literal; Spinx stores are famous for their fried chicken, and recent events inspired the retailer to accelerate its long-time goal of taking its staple food on the road.
“We are so excited to offer a new and enjoyable way to serve the Upstate community,” said The Spinx Company founder and chairman, Stewart Spinks. “This has been a longtime dream in the making, and we believe that it will provide a unique way to introduce our legendary fried chicken to even more people across the state.”Upstate Business Journal, “The Cluk Truk: Spinx launches new food truck”
Wawa’s Drive-Thru C-store
In the other direction of convenience, Wawa is rolling out a new drive-thru format for c-stores that lets customers shop without leaving their cars. Though the drive-thru was also in development prior to the pandemic, a convenience store where you don’t have to walk inside reassures customers of safety–regardless of the square-footage of the interior.
Compared to Spinx, this store is more in line with Wawa’s traditional c-store format. Employees take orders from customers as they pull up to the window, and in the case of a larger-than-usual customer volume, drivers are directed to curbside pickup spots to await their purchases.
We are hoping to learn from the layout, workflow and traffic flow at this location, as we continue to explore alternatives for longer term application to our stores post-COVID-19.Terri Micklin, director of construction with Wawa; Source: CNN, “Wawa is building a drive-thru only convenience store”
The first drive-thru-only Wawa, measuring 1,850 square feet, is set to open in December to service customers in Falls Township, PA. A second location is also opening in Westhampton, NJ. In addition to physical store changes, technology is helping other c-store retailers stay competitive while keeping customers safe.
Tech Innovation and Beyond
In Tempe, AZ, Circle-K is innovating by retrofitting a convenience store with autonomous checkout. Using technology that mirrors cashierless stores like Amazon Go and Ahold’s Lunchbox, the revamped Circle-K store will use tracking cameras to monitor customer purchases. The store will use an app to “sign in,” much like Amazon Go.
“In light of COVID, this is the kind of experience people will like even more,” says Magnus Tägtström, head of global digital innovation at Circle K’s parent company, Alimentation Couche-Tard. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to interact with anyone. You could just walk in, grab what you want, and walk out. That resonated very much with social distancing and a low-touch environment.”Fast Company, “How convenience store chains like Circle-K and 7 Eleven are morphing in the COVID-19 era”
Automated convenience stores make it easier for customers to buy goods without interaction, and retrofitting offers new opportunities for traditional c-stores to compete against Amazon. Whereas Amazon builds a new store for each Amazon Go iteration, traditional stores like Circle-K already have a network of locations that they can convert into autonomous hubs.
In the case of digital-only companies, c-stores also provide new ways to grow business. The delivery company DoorDash started taking orders for convenience store goods from traditional stores like 7-Eleven and Circle K in April, but they are now launching their own online store, Dashmart. Through DashMart, DoorDash customers can order from a selection of around 2,000 common convenience store items to have delivered to their doorstep. The orders are fulfilled by DoorDash employees at DoorDash-owned warehouses, and the storefront even includes packaged food from local restaurants.
Small merchants and local goods are the priority in this new digital format. According to DoorDash, “DashMart is an entirely new channel for local businesses to reach customers online, transforming how our merchant partners can sell their retail products.” The digital storefront is now available in eight cities throughout the U.S., and there are plans to expand in the coming months.
While most retailers are focusing on in-store innovations, others are using their branding to improve their online image. 7-Eleven, for example, has partnered with Forever 21 to release a clothing collection that features the c-store’s branding.
The iconic 7-Eleven, Big Gulp, and Slurpee logos are at the center of the collection, building off of the chain’s decades-long legacy. This collection is a public-facing supplement to 7-Eleven’s recent acquisition of Speedway–a deal totaling $21 billion.
Convenience requires flexibility, and these retailers’ concept stores and technological improvements are part of the evolving retail space that will last long after COVID-19 precautions are phased out. For more information on different retailers who are using innovative store formats to stay competitive, you can read our blog on Hy-Vee’s supermarket/c-store hybrids here.