The average gas station attracts about 300 customers a day, but only 35% of those customers ever set foot inside the store. That means a little over a third of gas/fuel customers go inside to make additional purchases. C-store owners use competitive fuel pricing to attract customers, but once those customers have filled their tank, the next challenge is to get them inside the store (where margins are significantly higher) with cutting-edge marketing techniques. About 40% of gas shoppers who make the journey from the pump into the store attribute this action to some kind of promotional element that drew them inside. The largest percentage (17%) reported that they were drawn into the store by a frequent buyer or loyalty program. Fuel customers are a captive audience at the pump providing owners with a 1 to 3-minute time frame to market products and services. Technology can play a key role in converting fuel customers to store consumers during that short window of opportunity. Loyalty programs are an important way to attract customers inside the store. By offering points and discounts, customers can increase their average transaction.
Technology can play a key role by incorporating the time of day, weather conditions, and other factors to promote products through the loyalty program, whether at the pump or on their mobile device. Customers still buy tobacco, cold alcohol, lottery tickets and other top selling items. Incorporating these customers’ historical purchase data from their loyalty program can assist in marketing top selling items either at the pump or through loyalty program notifications.
Sophisticated software applications can provide data feeds that help store owners convert fuel customers to store customers through a combination of historical purchases, weather conditions, and time of day. A customized approach helps drivers make that all important walk from the pump to the store and expands the bottom line while creating an enjoyable customer experience.
The Future of C-Store Technology
In comparison to other industries, the C-store industry has been slower to incorporate advanced technology. While they understand the need for data to improve profitability, they have been reticent to incorporate it. Current stores, whether single owner or large chain, have been hampered by manual data systems that include spreadsheets or outdated computer systems. The time, effort, and labor necessary to reconcile and understand this data is a drain on company profitability. Change is hard to make but if owners don’t adapt, they may be left out in the cold.
This operational and transactional data takes the guesswork out of promotional performance, competitive pricing, and loyalty programs all while preventing store managers from wasting time gathering information from local competitors. Real-time, specific data feeds provide a single source of information to improve store operations and profitability. Agilence’s 20/20 Data Analytics Platform gathers large sets of data and synthesizes them into simple reporting. Store owners and managers no longer need to scan through pages of spreadsheets but can instantly identify opportunities to promote products and improve margins. These reports provide system alerts to staff, allowing them to easily make price adjustments that attract customers and keep them coming back. Agilence’s reports can also increase pump to store conversion, time of day product positioning, and product promotions based on current weather conditions. While these reports may seem futuristic to some owners, the next evolution of convenience will include incorporating artificial intelligence, and/or robots into the convenience retailing model.
Robots already exist in today’s C-stores. Carwash operations are hands-free and totally pre-programmed. Fuel dispensing is also automated, allowing customers to select, pump, and pay based on their individual preferences. Implementing robots at the store level to assist customers in their product selections, food preparation, or checkout may not be far behind. When viewed in that light, technology will serve to promote C-stores as a customer friendly (and profitable) convenience.
While there are great applications to solve many of the emerging challenges for C-stores, it’s still wise to have a central system of checks and balances that ensures all independent solutions – whether manual or tech-based – provide a comprehensive picture of the business. Technology is rapidly changing the C-Store industry and a central source of consistent and accurate data will support owners in maintaining a profitable store that offers the best customer experience.
Learn more about the future of convenience store operations by downloading our whitepaper, “Keeping up with Convenience.”