Divine Disruption

Here’s an entirely plausible scenario: At around 8 a.m. on a weekday, customers are lined six deep in front of the only open register at your suburban convenience store.

The line has screeched to a halt because a deliveryman running late has flanked the clerk at the register and asked her to sign off on a load of windshield wiper fluid he delivered.

One of two things can happen:
• The clerk’s conventional experience will tell her she has to sign the driver’s papers so the guy can get back on the road to finish his route. The customers in line, meanwhile, shuffle their feet and stew as their morning routine balloons from two minutes into a cancerous six minutes.  

• The clerk will tell the deliveryman to hold his horses while she finishes tending to the customers in line. End of story.

In the real world, the first scenario is more common than some retailers may like to admit. In the ideal world, scenario No. 2 would prevail, but it’ll take some behavior modification to get there.

Call it “disruptive” modification, but disruptive in the best of ways.

Longtime convenience industry expert Bill Bishop explains: “You have to think of the customers’ needs and look for ways to disrupt what you do, so you do a more expansive job of serving those needs.”

It’s all about tearing down the conventional processes, all those practices and paradigms that perpetuate programs that seem harmless but are actually counterproductive or problematic at their core.

Bishop and the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council have released a new report, “Fast Forward: Emerging Opportunities in Convenience Retail,” that will be pivotal in helping convenience store operators and employees shift their conventional practices to more unconventional, customer-centric approaches.  

“Conventional thinking lulls you into thinking you’re doing it right,” Bishop said, “but customers think otherwise.” The goal is to help retailers change their bad habits so they can add more value to their brand.

“A brand is really activated in the mind of the customer,” Bishop said. “Frequent positive experiences are the keys to building a brand.”

Improving Operations
The reader-friendly “Fast Forward” report is about 33 pages devoid of any geeky statistics or mind-numbing charts; it deconstructs the convenience industry in a common-sense approach that cuts to the key issues, breaking it down simply by store types, consumer types and consumers’ hierarchy of needs.

The report recognizes convenience retail fundamentals are built on safety, cleanliness and hospitality, but it truly excels in its examination of shoppers’ top-level needs: simplicity/ease of shopping, and time enrichment.  

Regarding simplicity and ease of shopping, for instance, retailers are encouraged to scrutinize their product offerings not from the standpoint of the product, but from the customer’s perspective.

Bishop explained: “It’s about making systematic changes in the way a store is set up, organized and staffed, so that it’s more intuitive.” If you sell windshield washer fluid in Cleveland, for instance, it’s probably a good idea to add window scrapers or lock de-icer, too. “(The customer) has now become conditioned to know that this store has a character that makes life easier and simpler than stores in other places.”

The essence of this point: “Instead of starting with products and building from there, you start with the customer’s needs,” Bishop said.  

Ricker Oil Co. President Jay Ricker, a member of the NACS/Coca-Cola Research Council and participant in the retailer “Disruption Workshop,” said the information he gleaned from the report offers a different strategy to keep up with customers’ changing needs.

“This report has a lot of takeaways, including information about how we need to look at customers, how we build our stores and how we select products we sell,” Ricker said.

Download the free report at www.ccrrc.org, under the “NACS/CCRRC” tab.


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