How to Win Over C-Store Customers with More Than Convenience

Jennifer Ortner
Vice President, Grocery
Jen has decades of experience working with some of the world's largest brands to build and redefine businesses across CPG, Retail and Digital Media & Promotions.

Gas stations make most of their margin from convenience store items rather than fuel—but simply being there with snacks is no longer enough. Increasingly, C-store customers want more out of their gas station experience. Those that can deliver on those expectations are much better positioned to weather the continued storm of inflation and shifting consumer behaviors.

According to NielsenIQ, consumers have reported plans to cut back on discretionary spending in favor of meeting basic needs and paying for the essentials like utilities and groceries in response to pricing spikes. Part of the shift also includes cutting back on food deliveries and “other indulgences” (aka many of the items you might find at the convenience store). In fact, 34% of respondents indicated spending less on treats like dining out.

As household budgets shrink and spending habits change, differentiation is more important than ever. Here’s how you can amp up your C-store experience—and what it takes to get there.

Stock their favorite brands

According to Intouch Insight Ltd.’s 2022 Convenience Store Trends Report, 70% of shoppers prefer their favorite coffee brand over the more convenient cup of joe. Given the added hesitance shoppers feel toward purchasing “extras” at the moment, capitalizing on longstanding loyalties by stocking customer favorites can be a point of differentiation.

But in order to take advantage of this strategy, you first need to know what those brand favorites are—which means you need robust customer insights to fuel your decision making.

Keep the grab-and-go options flowing

The reviews are in, and customers love the grab-and-go options at their local c-store. Why? First, they’re already getting gas, so these prepped items save them another trip. Second, it’s faster than a drive-thru. According to Cardlytics data, the average wait time at a QSR is around 7 minutes, while C-store waits average 4 minutes. Plus, customers often stop for gas along their route to work, so they don’t have to go out of their way, saving even more time. 

Gas stations that include made-to-order menu items show higher walk-in rates than those with more standard snack items. But the popularity of these items also opens a window for C-stores to continue gaining market share from grocery stores and restaurants. C-store share against the QSR category has increased 18.42% to 21.39% since 2019, and by refining and/or expanding grab-and-go options, convenience stores can continue the upward trend.

Do you have the tracking capabilities to identify which items are the most popular with which customer segments, or the items that customers would most want to see added?

Expand your operating model to include delivery

Preferred brands and grab-and-go items are pulling more customers into the store, but what could just as easily dissuade them? High prices and a lack of alternative shopping methods.

Many C-stores are already taking note: last year saw a 47% increase in “last-mile services” like curbside, delivery and mobile ordering. Mobile ordering in particular is a key strategy, with 1.1% of customers turning to their phones to order at convenience, QSR or FSR retailers, up from .5% in 1Q19. 

Do you have insight into your customers’ price sensitivity and how they would most like to order and receive their purchases?

Lead with loyalty 

Loyalty programs are also winning with c-store customers. According to the Convenience Store Trends Report, 94% of survey respondents were part of at least one, and 76% would choose a brand with a loyalty program over one without. 

One challenge with these programs, however, is that employees aren’t promoting them sufficiently, causing c-store programs to lag behind grocery, restaurants and fast food in terms of popularity. Only 28% of cashiers mentioned their c-store’s loyalty program, while some locations lacked signable and promotional materials.

You can’t rely on your teams to make your loyalty program a success. Instead, you need a full-court digital strategy to get the message out beyond the four walls of your store. Do you have the ability to identify best-fit candidates for your program and deliver personalized messages and offers via digital channels to encourage signups?  

Get your data together & solve the “unknown” problem 

Despite the strain of macroeconomic forces, C-stores still have plenty of opportunities to win and keep customers—but all of them require robust customer data. Before you can enact any of these strategies, you need a reliable set of customer insights to make the best product recommendations and personalized offers and messages possible.

But many brick-and-mortar retailers, like C-stores, have had a long-standing issue: they can’t identify who’s coming into their stores or what they’re buying. Instead, they’re left with unknown customers, unknown purchase behaviors—and no way to target these individuals.

However, nearly all the purchases at your C-store happen via debit or credit card. With the abbreviated card information stored with every transaction, we can help you build unified, privacy-safe customer profiles with SKU-level purchase history, as well as  hundreds of enriching demographics, socioeconomic and lifestyle attributes. We can also help you drive personalized offers based on actual purchases, preferred items, frequency, price sensitivity, promotional history, daypart and channel preferences via virtually any digital channel.

Ready to win over more c-store customers? Contact us today to learn more.