Why convenience stores are becoming more convenient

With grocery shopping shifting to smaller stores, landlords rush to adapt

September 28, 2020

It’s not just online shopping that got a boost from the pandemic. Consumers wary of large grocery stores have also turned to something that is often a little closer to home: the convenience store.

Typically known as a place to stop for milk or cigarettes, these stores have become go-to places for a broader range of grocery shopping. In response, landlords and owners have been changing in-store layouts and offering contactless click-and-collect options.

“The convenience store has had to offer more to more people,” says Josh Broehl, managing director at Big Red Rooster, a JLL company specializing in brand experience and retail design services.

With names such as Kwik Trip and Kum & Go, convenience stores have been designed for a speedy in-store experience. This design philosophy, however, proved problematic during a pandemic.

“Convenience stores are inherently small-format, creating a natural conflict with social distancing,” says Broehl. “Shoppers just don’t feel as comfortable in tight environments, especially today.”

Around 82% of consumers tried to get in and out of the store as fast as possible on their previous shopping trip, according to Big Red Rooster. The same number said they tried to touch as few products as possible on their last trip. 

This means using signage and other visual aids to establish sightlines and ensure easier navigation or creating adjacent displays of complementary items to ease basket-building, Broehl says. It’s all about saving time and avoiding a path that winds throughout the store.

“Alterations also include other options so shoppers can experience the store their way,” he adds. “For example, self-checkout is becoming a must as shoppers demand the perceived speed and safety of self-checkout.”

For example, 7-Eleven’s namesake app features Mobile Checkout, which enables customers in certain markets to scan and pay for items in-store using their phones, helping them avoid the checkout line and maintain social distancing. And for those wishing for an even more frictionless trip, they can use the 7NOW app to place an order remotely, letting them enter, skip the checkout line, and exit with their purchases.

To many these days, staying outside the physical store might be the better option. New research from Big Red Rooster shows 56% of consumers feel moderately or extremely safe with curbside pickup.

Convenience stores are testing the waters in this area, inspired by quick-service and fast-casual restaurants who’ve paved the way in contactless delivery. For instance, in April midwestern chain Kum & Go began piloting full-service fuel and curbside pickup in most stores across its 11-state footprint. It’s part of a broader effort by the chain to give more fueling and buying options during the pandemic. And in May, northeastern convenience chain Alltown Fresh launched contactless pickup options at all of its stores. 

“By leveraging the learnings from food service, convenience stores can get a jump on implementing these experiences at their stores,” Broehl explains.

Delivery, too, is entering the convenience sector. In September, 7-Eleven began a partnership with third-party delivery service Instacart for same-day delivery of groceries, alcohol and other products in as little as 30 minutes. Customers place their orders through the retailer’s 7NOW mobile app.

Broehl highlights the “enormous potential” of delivery in the convenience channel, noting that greater adoption of mobile ordering and omnichannel integration is helping to fuel growth here. But adding this option will require adjustments to staffing and store layout.

“This will require shifts in processes and labor allocation,” Broehl says. “Ringing up an in-store shopper’s order is very different from fulfilling a mobile order and delivering that to the shopper. In addition, changes are needed in the store to provide staging areas for product orders and new paths for employees.”