By Joseph Bona.
Back in the 1960s, the creators of “The Jetsons” envisioned a utopian future in which tech made just about everything better—including your daily commute in a flying saucer. But now that we’re actually in the 21st century, things seem quite a bit messier than in the cartoon. The journalist Thomas Friedman calls our present era “the Age of Accelerations.” Both technology and digital globalisation, he argues, are zipping ahead in ways we can scarcely comprehend.
What technologists and futurists are telling us is that changes worthy of the Jetsons—driverless cars, 3D printers, virtual reality, delivery drones and “grab and go” stores without checkout, to name a few—really are around the corner. Today I think of these evolutions as novel and “disruptive,” but at a certain point, not very far off, they will just be part of life.
So how are c-store and fuel retailers supposed to respond to these massive shifts? It’s something that’s keeping us working late nights for clients. Indeed, for retailers embarking on new store formats with a lifespan of five years or more, it has now become a strategic imperative to make sure their new retail propositions make the jump the next level now; otherwise, they risk operational obsolescence within 24 months. For many retailers, creating a convenience and fuel store of the future is suddenly the only game in town.
But the “next level” isn’t about change for its own sake—it has to be rooted in actual market demand. This is why it can be useful to ask yourself, “What hasn’t changed?” When I do this, two fundamentals pop into mind that have always driven the c-store sector and are only growing more important—food and convenience, which we refer to in shorthand as “Foodvenience.” People will always need to eat, and they’ll never want things to be harder or more time-consuming than necessary. Nice experiences, too, have been a part of retail since the ancient souks of Istanbul.
On the food front, digital globalisation will continue to drive demand for tasty and high-quality fare as tastes broaden and people pursue more and more novelty. Already, the c-store sector has made great progress in this area. (Indeed, QSR execs now openly wring their hands about the pressure from c-stores.) The industry is on the right track and should continue to focus on food—up to and including approaches that weave in technology.
But then we advise clients to look at what has already changed, or is just about to. The best way to understand the changes to our retail world is through the lens of growing automation. Consumers want machines to do stuff for them to make their lives simpler; be that driving their cars, ordering their fuel and other c-store products with apps and taking payment at the touch of a button, or having the store recognise you and charge your account as you leave.
And because consumers feel under tremendous pressure to fit all their activities into each day, the demand for this kind of automated convenience represents an unparalleled opportunity for our industry. Dan Munford develops our ideas further in his “C-Stores in the Age of Automation” feature, also published today.
Of course, it’s only an opportunity if we ask the right questions and do the right stuff. The word, Foodvenience was coined precisely because the new retail reality of combining food with convenience is so clarifying from a strategy standpoint. Technology and globalisation will change things, but they will not alter the fundamentals of human nature. We are pro-social beings who seek pleasure and ease while avoiding discomfort. If a new gizmo seems unrelated to the Foodvenience fundamentals, leave it on the cutting-room floor.
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