Customer journeys are on a journey themselves, changing in lockstep with new technology hitting the scene. But are their journeys changing so quickly—or so dramatically—that you should care?
The answer, of course, is yes, you should care a lot. In fuel & convenience retail, business and IT coexist in an closed-loop ecosystem and influence one another all the time. Missing out on technological innovations means missing out on customer journey innovations—which in turn means missing out on revenue, customer retention and operational efficiency.
There is a way to work smarter, not harder, to ensure your solutions are meeting consumers’ quickly evolving expectations. In this post I’ll explore two key areas where a new perspective can make a huge difference: digitalization of the c-store, and reducing friction in your store operations.
Mobile is Mainstream: Is it a Priority in Your Retail Strategy?
According to the 2021 Convenience Store News Technology Study
, today more than a third of convenience retailers offer mobile ordering via a website, up from 20% a year ago, while more than 25% offer mobile ordering via an app. As consumers and their mobile phones are inseparable nowadays, 56% of c-store retailers that don't yet offer ordering via an app indicate they plan to do so this year.
Mobile consumer journeys are quickly becoming the de facto standard. Pre-ordering fresh food, verifying product readiness before coming to the c-store to pick up your parcel, checking loyalty rewards, using a phone as a digital wallet: these are all new-ish solutions that are mobile-centric—and expected by your consumers.
C-store retailers know this, too. The same study shows a widespread adoption of customer-facing digital technologies such as social media, mobile apps and mobile websites. These contribute to brand awareness, customer retention and in general, help you cultivate a more loyal audience. When asked about investments in customer interaction improvements, retailers mention text messaging to customers (40% of retailers), e-mail marketing (37%) and mobile GPS/geolocation alerts (also 37%) as solutions they’re most likely to add this year.
Forget About Friction: Your Customers Want To!
Reducing friction is another topic popping up in every study on customer journeys. For example, self-checkout is considered a major opportunity for retailers across the board, to give customers more control over their shopping experience. Personalization also contributes to frictionless shopping journeys. Combining customer data with information on purchase transactions, and analyzing that data to understand what customers are doing in-store and in what order, can help you optimize your product portfolio, stock levels and targeted loyalty campaigns to give your customers an even better shopping experience inside and outside of the store.
Self-service, personalization technologies and “going digital” are all ways to streamline the customer journey
. They make shopping trips more efficient, and save time for staff on more mundane tasks so they can focus on helping customers instead. Especially in a convenience store setting, efficiency and accessible support are two qualities that make it even more appealing to visit the c-store. And with the right technologies in place, this is a very achievable reality. So what is the solution from a technology perspective?
Streamline Through Software
First of all, reducing friction means connecting the various touchpoints and interactions happening along the journey. This requires a software platform that lives and breathes openness. The best way to be open to current and future innovations is using a platform leveraging public APIs and open standards. This makes it easier to connect the dots and exchange data needed to complete a c-store transaction smoothly.
Secondly, the software platform should be designed to work in an omnichannel retailing environment. Moving from social media to a mobile app to a physical store and then closing the transaction using a digital wallet is not an unlikely journey in today’s fuel & convenience environment. Any new solutions you employ should be capable of centrally storing data and “injecting” it at the right time, into the right channel and touchpoint, to personalize journeys and avoid preventable interruptions along the way.
Another criterium is modularity. Choosing modular software solutions gives you more flexibility and control. Using ‘rip-n-replace’ is often seen as straightforward and fast, but in fact, it is not a good idea. In reality, it means costly migrations, lower ROI on existing investments, and overall, lots of headache for you. Instead, consider a step-by-step approach where you leave hardware and software technology components in place as long as they still contribute to a more seamless shopping experience. In the long run, it will be cheaper, extend the ROI and typically, by taking smaller steps, it will give you more control on the process and outcome.
Consider the Cloud
The cloud is not necessarily a panacea for everything, but it does let you centralize processes more easily; it also ensures you can scale more easily when adding new stores or touchpoints, and—if hosted as-a-service—it lowers your upfront capital expenditure (CapEx) by making costs more transparent and predictable with a subscription fee based on actual usage (OpEx).
One important note here is to look for a cloud solution that is cloud native, not cloud-enabled or cloud-based. The reason is simple: cloud-native solutions were purposely built for use in a cloud environment, which means during the design phase close attention was paid to security, reliability, availability and performance. A cloud-enabled solution, on the other hand, typically offers a cloud “wrapper” around a piece of legacy software, but in essence is still a legacy solution that was built for (and performs best with) in-store deployment and in a closed, safe environment. Make sure you’re asking your technology provider the right questions about their approach cloud computing and how they built their cloud software solution.
Curious to see a modern, streamlined and cloud-enabled fuel & convenience customer journey in action? Watch it HERE