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      Retail Evolution

      How Convenience Stores Can Join Industry 4.0

      Uber. Airbnb. Wikipedia. TaskRabbit. These are all businesses that are a part of the “Industrial Revolution 4.0,” which is the name given to an era where technology is drastically changing the way we work, shop and live. A lot of time, energy and discussion was dedicated to this era at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Las Vegas in early October. There, Oliver Schlake, Ph.D., a clinical professor with Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland, outlined opportunities for c-store operators “who aren’t afraid” to be a part of it.  

      During an educational session called “TechEdge: Industrial Revolution 4.0,” Schlake pointed out that the successful businesses named above all have a common undercurrent: “Industrial Revolution 4.0 allows us to better monetize underutilized assets,” said Schlake. Uber honed in on the underutilized asset of cars and drivers with time to spare. eBay connects people who want to get rid of their junk with people who want more junk; Wikipedia serves as a shared bank for personal knowledge; TaskRabbit connects people with free time to do chores with people who don’t have that free time; Airbnb links people with spare rooms with people who need a place to stay. In all of them, underutilized assets found a use.

      Convenience stores have their own array of underutilized assets, said Schlake. As technology continues to progress and data builds, c-stores, too, can hop on the 4.0 highway. Here’s how.

      Work that location, location, location. “It’s not the fight for the last mile anymore, it’s the fight for the last block,” said Schlake. Location can be a great asset, and convenience stores should use that location to their fullest advantage. Schlake suggested a number of ways to do that. For one, c-store owners could invite food trucks to park in their parking lot, if it doesn’t infringe on business. He says they should also consider ways to monetize their roof. They can do that by installing solar panels, or even converting the roof top to a drone landing zone. In the future, he believes that households will have their own “pick-up” drones that fly to the store for them. Convenience stores can help move that forward by offering them a place to land and load.

      Take advantage of real-time purchase data. “It has now become a sellable asset,” says Schlake. Real-time purchase data can also help retailers and their partners better understand shopper behavior. Schlake says that more retailers are working directly with brands to share that information as it comes in. That way, brands can see how many items are being purchased at a particular time and help restock seamlessly. They can also step in if something is awry. “They can intervene if the message is getting tainted,” says Schlake.

      Collect insights from customer visits and put them to use. Convenience stores have a distinct advantage, says Schlake, in that they are in a position to gather an enormous amount of data from shoppers who are continually visiting the brick-and-mortar store. This, he says, is an asset with “huge potential.” By collecting and analyzing data, c-store owners could learn, in theory, that people who drive Corollas also tend to drink Dr. Pepper. They can then use either push messages on phones or monitors on the gas pump to advertise Dr. Pepper specifically to those customers. “There’s an enormous amount of information a consumer has given you,” says Schlake.

      Consider the best use of your space. “Space is the final frontier,” says Schlake. According to NACS, convenience stores stock, on average, between 2,501 and 3,500 different items per store. Using insights, c-store owners can determine whether sales improve if they stock more items or fewer items. Stores can also get creative with their shelf space, suggested Schlake, and partner with area businesses and startups selling locally made foods or locally grown produce, and offer something unique in the process.

      Convenience store owners today have a wealth of assets at their fingertips: data, space, location and more. By making the most of all of the above, they could take their business to the next level, and join in the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

      Image Credit: David T. Foster, III, The Charlotte Observer
      Kate Silver

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