Convenience Store Trends: Our Q&A with Britt Mills

Brittany Mills
Publication Date
28 September 2020

Convenience Store Trends: Our Q&A with Britt Mills

Convenience Store News recently published an article about the five key consumer behaviors that are changing the convenience retail space. We sat down with Britt Mills, Senior Director of Customer Experience at Mobiquity, to get her take on the article and the trends that will reshape this industry as we close out 2020 and begin 2021. 

Read on to hear our Q&A with Britt, who has worked with clients such as Wawa and Kum & Go.

Q: The article outlines five behaviors: demographics, smartphone adoption, distanced acquisition, home-based work, and safety and hygiene, with the author stating, “...The customer journey and shopping behavior have changed permanently. The consumer experience is synonymous with seamless technology.” Do you agree with this? 

Britt Mills: This is absolutely in line with what we are seeing today. COVID-19 really forced the inevitable when it came to digital experiences in retail and this is especially true for the convenience and quick-service space. People want to get what they need – whether that’s food or convenience products – in a touchless way because it gives them the safest option for themselves and their families. In our work, we’ve accelerated some of our clients’ 2021 plans so that features and digital options were available as the demand ebbed and flowed. This will no doubt become a worthwhile investment in the long term due to the convenience and efficiency that technology provides, with safety being an added benefit. For more and more consumers,  mobile apps, contactless payments, and other digital tools are so integrated into everyday life they’re starting to forget what it was like BC (before COVID).  

Q: Next I want to ask you about the race to get digital solutions to market. One of the convenience stores highlighted, Cruizers out of North Carolina, noted that speed was an important factor in getting their frictionless checkout program implemented. In your opinion, how does speed play a factor in digital transformation?

Britt Mills: Getting important programs like frictionless checkout implemented are certainly needed in the market right now, so it makes sense that this is something Cruizers would want to do quickly. Every program is different, but I think the way that you determine how fast you can get something in the market depends on your goals. What are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? The most critical factor, in my opinion, when launching a new digital experience is ensuring your associates are ready to support this new customer experience. We have seen many five-star app experiences get a one-star rating because the out-of-app experience with an associate didn’t align with the in-app expectation. Getting to market quickly should not be at the associate’s expense. We help clients identify this balance with our North Star strategy. It is a holistic approach to identify what success looks like and how all departments can impact that. Associate success is a piece of that puzzle. 

Q: Another convenience store mentioned in the article was FavTrip, a Kansas City based chain. Their president discussed the importance of building a bond with its consumers and employees during the pandemic. In what ways have you seen digital customer experience change to accomplish this goal since March 2020?

Britt Mills: At Mobiquity, we regularly analyze what customers want in their mobile app experience via our Friction Report. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), we review hundreds of thousands of customer reviews and then report that data for our clients so that they can put themselves in their customers’ shoes and make informed decisions about the next steps and priorities they want to tackle. This year, we compared 2019 reviews against 2020 reviews to see what, if anything, has changed since COVID. After looking at successful mobile apps for 7-Eleven, Circle K, Kum & Go, Kwik Rewards, Sheetz, Speedway, Wawa, and others, we found the following three differentiators:

  1. A large drop in the number of reviews. This is likely because more than half of the apps analyzed do not support mobile ordering — a must-have for a contactless experience.
  2. Other needs surpassing concerns around rewards. Rewards have historically been a top concern for consumers and it is still the most reviewed category. With the new needs and concerns that COVID brings however, we’ve seen mobile ordering and pickup increasing in concern. This is a huge area of opportunity since so few apps support those functions.
  3. Desire for contactless payment. The ability to shop with fewer touch points (and without using a gift card) has become even more important to customers.

You can get the full report here.

Q: Lastly, Quality Dairy Co., a dairy, bakery, and retail convenience store chain serving the Michigan area, talked about their pivot into delivery. Do you think that delivery will be a new trend for convenience retailers as we close out 2020 and begin 2021?

Britt Mills: The stores that offer delivery services are likely to see an uptick in user engagement, especially as we head into the fall and winter seasons. With influenza on the rise during these months and the added uncertainty around the coronavirus, consumers are likely to increase their shelter-in-place plans and leave the house less. My prediction is that many of the quick service and convenience retailers will start to think about how they want to offer delivery and within those plans will definitely be a personalization and digital customer experience strategy. Mobile ordering offers the kind of customer data that you just can’t get from any other platform. As restaurants and convenience stores gain transparency to what each customer is buying, their shopping patterns, and their likelihood for trying new products, they can use this information to tailor mobile app experiences to each individual customer. Personalized offerings leading to higher average check sizes, more frequent ordering, and less labor necessary within physical stores (less need for checkout cashiers, shelf stockers, and even waiters).

Are you ready to advance your store to meet the new needs of consumers? At Mobiquity, the people you meet on day one of your engagement are the same group of people you’ll be celebrating with when each program has launched. Every team member is aligned to what success looks like and how we will get there - thanks to the North Star. Working with a partner that is flexible around your goals so that you can go-to market when you want to is something every company should consider when looking at digital consultancies. 

Ready to create a digital customer experience for your organization? Let’s talk.

To learn more about the digital future of convenience stores, register for the upcoming Convenience Store News Virtual Technology Leadership SeriesMobiquity's Chief Creative Officer, Mike Welsh, will participate in the discussion and share insights based on our vast experience with c-stores. 

Register for the CS News Virtual Technology Leadership Series

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