“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” – Bill Gates
Think how much has changed in the convenience store industry in the last ten years. Restaurant-quality foodservice was in its infancy; loyalty was just starting to blossom; and other technologies such as kiosks, RFID and cashier less checkout were generally a pipedream. Now, each of these concepts is front-and-center in the c-store industry simply due to one reason: the customer. Customers that frequent convenience stores do not visit them exclusively – they also visit other progressive channels such as the Quick Service Restaurant industry, for instance. Their experience has been elevated by this industry and has raised the bar on us. Customer expectations can be gradual in the short term, but failing to recognize these may make our industry obsolete.
Fortunately, many have embraced the challenge and begun to recognize that it’s about “Customer Experiences, not Transactions.” Rather than treating customer count as if it were a commodity transaction, focusing on the customer experience creates a bond with your customers that influences repeat occurrences. The customer experience stems from three components in order to be effective: Visual, behavioral and verbal.
Technology continues to play a larger and larger influence on the overall customer experience. Delta Airlines is a perfect example for me. As a management consultant I am on the road a lot. In fact, I generally fly about 200,000 miles a year and basically I am boarding a plane every one and half days. The Delta app is one of the best forms of technology that allows me to change my flight; be notified of changes to my flight; track my bags; track my miles; etc. Everything I need is at my fingertips and minimizes any and all disruptions to my travel schedule. This app has elevated my customer experience and keeps me loyal to Delta.
Here are some other examples of outstanding customer experience companies:
- Sam’s Club – With their Scan-and-Go app, Sam’s Club has mastered the customer experience for the value shopper that doesn’t want to wait in line. Simply scan your items as you put them in your cart and bypass the long checkout lines utilizing a QR code.
- Tesco – In Korea, Tesco has created virtual stores that customers can access at high-volume locations (i.e., commuter train stations). Customers can pre-order convenience store products from virtual stores for delivery at their work place or home.
- Amazon Go – Amazon has created an innovative convenience store that addresses consumer needs by providing high-quality food; with attractive merchandising and packaging; priced reasonably; all while allowing the consumer to checkout effortlessly with their “just walk out technology”.
In short, while changes to a 150,000-store location industry may take longer than expected, nonetheless they are coming. Technology and non-industry competition continues to raise the consumer experience bar. Our convenience store industry needs to continue to embrace these customer expectations in order to continue to grow.