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What 2019 has In-Store for the Convenience Retail Industry

2018 saw many changes across the retail sector with technology at the forefront. Recognizing the shift in what consumers expect from their in-store experience, retailers scrambled to bolster their omnichannel capabilities. From click-and-collect and mobile app payment to line-busting POS tablets and checkout-less stores. Convenience stores in particular have been working hard to deliver a seamless experience for their customers to drive higher levels of engagement and long-term customer loyalty; for their USP must always be to provide a buyer journey that is as convenient as possible.

The industry continues to grow rapidly with $1 of every $31 in the US economy touched by the c-store industry and 160 million transactions being processed every day. This blog looks at what C-stores must do to keep up in 2019.

Customer Data & Loyalty

Beyond the usual incentives for stores to innovate – such as convenience and automation – there is the need to efficiently collect and process customer data to drive loyalty.

The more data that can be collected concerning customers’ tastes and requirements, the better equipped c-stores are to ensure a truly personalized customer experience. Customer acquisition is a costly exercise, and it will be those c-stores that leverage their customer data to achieve longer lifetime customer value that will prosper.

Building long term customer loyalty through effective loyalty programs is key, as identified in the 2018 C-store Shopper Profile report, which highlighted that 73% of shoppers will shop more frequently (51%) or even exclusively (22%) at the convenience store where they are a loyalty member. Furthermore, this report found that two out of every five loyal shoppers will spend more than $10 in the store per visit.

New Convenience Store Technology Report

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Customer data is good not only for building loyalty, but also for upselling. Understanding what customers might be interested in at which point in the buying journey can allow for the creation of real time customer promotions. The key is to ensure that you have the right technology in-store to deliver these types of promotions at the pump, at the register, at the kiosk, on their mobile app or by store associates with mobile POS tablets.

As c-stores introduce their own brands to drive higher margins in-store, the need for more flexible technology platforms to rapidly create and implement promotions across multiple devices throughout their store estate in real time will become more apparent.

Combat the Amazon Effect

Not many retailers can afford to implement the range of cameras and sensors in-store to deliver a checkout-less experience like Amazon Go but that doesn’t mean they can’t win. There is already ample proof that the likes of Walmart’s Scan ’n’ Go registers and kiosk-based ordering such as Sheetz are proving a real success.

Zynstra recently virtualized an existing POS for a major c-store that enabled them to launch PCI compliant mobile POS tablets in their stores to cater for peak period transactions. A simple solution that enhanced both the customer AND employee experience – as well as driving incremental sales. Faster, more convenient purchasing journeys are the future of retail so it’s important c-stores go the extra mile and adapt their existing POS to deliver this level of speed and convenience and arm their store associates with the correct technology. It was no surprise to see this message highlighted in a recent CSP Daily news article:

  • 76% of consumers have a better in-store experience when retail sales associates are armed with technology.
  • 92% of shoppers prefer stores that offer mobile experiences.
  • 73% want mobile POS for quicker checkout times.

We wanted a solution that could transform our Jersey Shore stores checkout speed while leveraging our existing technology investment. The speed within which this has been achieved by Zynstra’s Virtualized Tablet POS solution has been excellent. The customers are happy, the staff are happy and it provides us with a platform for rapid innovation as we accelerate towards software defined stores.

John Collier

Innovate with Legacy Hardware

Many c-stores are burdened by one common issue: they are keen to innovate but have legacy hardware built for a different age – not designed for the needs of today’s customers, and yet too expensive to replace.

But times have changed and it’s no longer a requirement to ‘rip and replace’ all your existing IT infrastructure or go through expensive hardware refreshes. The smart way is to decouple the hardware from the software through virtualization at the edge – in the store. NCR and Zynstra have worked together to provide a blueprint for the next generation of retail store architecture, utilizing legacy hardware for new functionality and less maintenance: ‘Software Defined Store enabled by Zynstra’. This approach gives you the flexibility to sweat your existing hardware assets, improve performance and begin the path towards digitally transforming your stores.

Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America, has already taken steps to install such a solution across their 750 stores.

Store IT infrastructures today are complex and expensive to maintain. By shifting our store infrastructure from a hardware centric to a software focused approach, we will be able to increase our speed-of-service, quickly deploy upgrades across our network of stores and add new features and innovations including cloud-enabled services across our chain.

Mike Rodgers
Chief Strategy and Information Officer
Pilot Flying J

By virtualizing back and front office store technology with intelligent automation, c-stores significantly reduce the number of servers and hardware to maintain. This simplifies maintenance and enables systems to operate on multiple devices. Having an agile platform with centralized control provides you with the ability to prototype, test and deploy new applications across your stores.

The increasing need for a flexible, secure on-site IT infrastructure

As the many tech trends in retail continue to permeate to c-stores, there will be an increased demand for the IT architecture to support such changes on-site at the ‘edge’, where customers meet c-stores face to face. The need for a more flexible, centrally managed platform is becoming ever more apparent. It’s costly to keep sending out IT maintenance teams to patch and update equipment across a distributed c-store estate – let alone trying to roll out new applications.

This approach will provide c-stores with a real competitive advantage, enabling new applications and new requirements to be rolled out faster than ever across multiple stores. For more insights regarding the c-store market, download our free guide.

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