How convenience stores are meeting shopper needs

Living in a remote village means I am reliant on our local convenience store, as are many other residents – given the volume of people that are always in there!  And it’s not just my village store that is seeing this success – along with discounters and online, convenience stores are one of the key growth channels in the UK. This growth is demonstrated (and fuelled in part) by expansion in the channel from the major multiples. Tesco has expanded from just 100 convenience format stores in 2000 to over 1,700 Express stores today, as they respond to the desire from shoppers to make food and grocery shopping better fit in around their lives.

Convenience stores are all about servicing the local community by meeting the shopper needs for the missions they are fulfilling. In my community, there is a mixture of working professionals and families. Having spent some time snooping in people’s baskets (a pastime of mine I really must stop doing!), I would say their main missions/needs, aside from the traditional confectionery, tobacco and news mission are – the essential top up (milk and bread etc.) and meal for tonight. So what has the store done to cater for these needs?

Essential top ups are catered for very well – both milk and bread are easily accessible as soon as you enter the store. It’s a myth that putting these items at the back of the store encourages shoppers to buy more – in fact it only serves to annoy them, and as such acts a long-term barrier to attracting shoppers to the store for this type of mission. The traditional thinking was that by placing these items at the back of the store, shoppers would impulsively purchase other items on their way to buy their essentials items.  It doesn’t work that way, because shoppers don’t work that way.  When shoppers are on a task focussed mission (such as an essential top up), the blinkers are on and they filter out any unnecessary information that is not relevant to the task in hand.  Anything else is just wallpaper and is ignored.  It is therefore better to get shoppers to their essential items as efficiently as possible, and then look to influence their purchasing from that point on.  This is where the layout in my local store works very well for shoppers. The route from the essential items to the till takes shoppers past impulse items like confectionery, DVDs and key offers at the point when the blinkers are off and shoppers are much more likely to spend incrementally.

The store has recently been refurbished, and it’s very obvious that attracting and appealing to meal for tonight shoppers has been a key target. First of all, fresh fruit and veg is now the first thing you see as you enter the store (it used to be packaged cakes). Having fresh first in flow creates a good initial impression and also allows you to complete your meal building mission more easily. The store has also invested in signage and attractive displays which add to the “fresh” appeal. This addition certainly makes it more acceptable to buy your basic fresh produce from this store, overcoming a traditional fresh quality barrier for the channel.

The success of the layout continues as you move from produce to meat and into dairy – allowing you to buy the perfect pudding! They also have some clever dual sites which further enhance a mission based layout, with cooking sauces and chilled wine displayed close by as an example. Within a few minutes of entering the store, you can pick up an entire meal for tonight, parking easily outside the store and being only a few minutes away from home. What could be easier?

The range in store is not huge – but it has at least one or two key brands for everything you could need – satisfying that emergency “run out” mission, and reducing the decision time at fixture via this simplified range – a feature which has also been a key driver of success in the discount channel.

The key barrier to convenience stores is often price – which in my store can be an issue. However, with lots of clearly communicated deals on categories like crisps, chocolate and wine, you can still feel like you are getting a bargain – and end up with items in your basket you didn’t even know you needed – with most of them visible (and most importantly accessible) whilst you are queuing (which you often are!)

With the macro trend of increased “little and often” shopping, convenience stores are going to be a key channel of focus in 2015 and beyond. To win within convenience stores, understand the c-store shopper.  Consider the key missions visiting these stores.  Are your categories visible and relevant to these missions? Have you got the range specifically tailored to meet the needs of shoppers in this location? And are you overcoming the barrier of price by demonstrating value for money?  By understanding more about your shoppers within these stores, you can develop a growth driven strategy for the channel that enables you to benefit from its anticipated growth.

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