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The c-store revolution: bringing convenience and connection to local communities

From their extended hours of operation to the wide variety of products they carry and the expansion of convenient payment options available, convenience stores (c-stores) have become the ultimate one-stop-shop for busy people on the go while also serving as third spaces for community members to gather and socialize.

From their extended hours of operation to the wide variety of products they carry and the expansion of convenient payment options available, convenience stores (c-stores) have become the ultimate one-stop-shop for busy people on the go while also serving as third spaces for community members to gather and socialize. With nearly 140,000 c-stores in the United States, compared to just half the number of grocery stores nationwide, it's easy to see why so many people turn to smaller-format sites as a convenient go-to for a wide range of services beyond last-minute essentials and fuel.

In this article, Lori Griboski, VP of Petroleum Sales at Paysafe, explores how the future of the 'food and fuel store’ is evolving to become a centralized hub for communities and where merchants can leverage payments technology to grow their bottom line amid the surging demand for convenience.

The case for convenience

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw retailers navigate a slew of lockdowns, restrictions, and understandably cautious customer behavior, the demand for in-person shopping experiences came to a full stop. No longer did these stores simply serve as a place to stop for a quick cup of coffee or fuel up on the way to work. Instead, merchants pivoted to a new way of reaching customers.

While the pandemic spurred many changes to consumer shopping habits, the c-store industry returned to its homegrown roots and implemented solutions that allowed store operators to reach customers where they were. This led many merchants to adopt a mix of purchasing options that enabled customers to buy products without needing to enter the store, including the expansion of at-home delivery through third-party delivery services, drive-thru and plexiglass walk-up windows, as well as curbside pick-up. Now with the return of shopping in-person, consumers continue to favor the speed and convenience that these and similar solutions offer.

Adoption of new payments technology

Many of the conveniences that emerged out of necessity during the pandemic have now become the expectation among consumers, including how people shop and pay. In fact, when it comes to the in-store experience of today, providing more checkout options can help c-store operators maintain a competitive advantage as the retail landscape evolves and new payment methods become increasingly more popular.

  • Embracing contactless technology at payment terminals to provide customers the convenience and physical safety that many have come to expect. Paysafe’s 2022 consumer research, revealed that two-thirds of consumers (67%) now regularly make contactless payments with their credit or debit card, with one in ten consumers (9%) confirming all their transactions are now contactless. Since becoming more widely available in the U.S., many customers find 'tapping to pay' to be faster, ultimately enabling more store operators to meet this need around convenience and speed.
  • Broadening payments choice for customers by leveling up terminals to accept both traditional forms of payment and alternative payment methods (APMs), such as digital or mobile wallets. With over a third (39%) of American consumers confirming that their payment habits have changed since the onset of the pandemic, offering quick and easy checkout solutions that take into account how customers want to pay is imperative to winning new business and strengthening relationships with existing clientele. This means merchants are not only embracing new technology from a terminal standpoint, but also prioritizing the various ways in which their customers prefer to pay.
  • Transitioning to cloud-based technology. Store operators who have recognized the value of adopting cloud-based technology are reaping the rewards. Through cloud-based technology, c-stores can better understand how to maximize sales by accessing real-time data and analytics that provides further insight around consumer payment patterns, as well as patterns in buying behavior. Store operators can also manage everything within a single, integrated system, making it possible to easily navigate several key functions all at once, including inventory management, data collection, transactional reconciliation, and even fraud prevention.

 

Impact on the local community

C-stores continue to play an important role in the communities they serve. Many of these stores are independently owned and operated, making them an integral part of the local economy. They create jobs, provide valuable services to the community, bring attention to local causes, and work with vendors in the area to incorporate local products and seasonal goods. In response to the return of in-person shopping, many c-stores are prioritizing amenities that help create unique customer experiences and strengthen loyalty.

As the demand for more enhanced and personalized customer experiences continues to grow, store operators are taking proactive steps to add new offerings that help transform their locations into a destination rather than a place customers stop by while on the go. This trend is enabling store owners to unearth new ways of reaching their customer base by including attractive amenities, such as artisan coffee shops, local food offerings and restaurants, as well as dog parks and play areas for younger kids.

Convenience stores are also a vital source of support during times of crisis and disaster, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, where stores often remain open to provide essential items to those in need. And with each solution or offering, payments technology is woven throughout to help store owners take their business strategy to the next level.