Convenience Stores are going High-Tech in the Post-Covid-19 Era | What’s next for the c-store experience?
Dr. Evangelo Damigos; PhD | Head of Digital Futures Research Desk
- Digital Transformation
- Sustainable Growth and Tech Trends
Publication | Update: Oct 2020
Convenience stores are going high-tech. News mentions of convenience stores and tech spiked in the last month as retailers have made several notable announcements.
According to CB Insights research, faster checkout and delivery are relatively straightforward extensions of c-stores’ general value proposition, and tthe big incumbents are leading the tech-enabled charge, often in partnership with startups. In the last month or so, their focus has been on two main areas:
Automated checkout: Cashierless checkout companies Standard Cognition and Grabango announced partnerships with Circle K stores and GetGo Cafe+Market, respectively. Circle K is also working with Mastercard to roll out the payments giant’s new Shop Anywhere checkout-free system, which is supported by automated checkout company Accel Robotics.
On-demand delivery: Instacart will now deliver online orders from 7-Eleven. The partnership adds another option to the global c-store’s fulfillment options, which also include its own 7Now delivery service. Food delivery startup DoorDash, meanwhile, is launching its own online-only convenience store called DashMart, in 8 cities to start.
Amazon is reaching into c-stores too: it’s officially possible to pay for gas via Alexa at 11,500 ExxonMobil stations in the US. The company first introduced the technology, which allows for payment via an Alexa-enabled car, in January. (This is in addition to the threat of its cashierless Amazon Go stores, which compete most closely with c-stores.)
What’s next for the c-store experience?
Tech-enabled vending has gained traction as consumers look for more low-contact ways to buy, and a few smart vending startups offer potential new ways for c-stores to extend their reach:
Better consumer insights: Popcom’s smart machines can fit a variety of products, but the company specializes in tracking the traffic, demographics, and general sentiment of consumers visiting the machine. It’s also developing a vending machine that can verify age for regulated products, like alcohol, using facial recognition.
More traffic drivers: Smark, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, makes automated purchase and pick-up points for groceries. Canada-based MedAvail, meanwhile, dispenses prescription medications via self-service kiosks.
Automated fresh food: Chowbotics launched its robotic salad-making kiosk Sally this summer at Heinen’s and ShopRite grocery stores. The machines take the place of salad bars, which have closed due to Covid-19. The company is also working on an update that would allow shoppers to order via smartphone. Chowbotics is one among a group of several fresh food-focused machines, including Farmers’ Fridge (which has expanded to include delivery during the pandemic).
Competition with c-stores’ foundations of ease and efficiency will only intensify: for example, more advances in on-demand services and delivery are right around the corner — such as mobile robot vending machines like those from Robomart. Smart vending and other similar technologies will help c-stores enhance the trip by understanding shoppers better, localizing their assortments and operations, and making things more speedy.
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