It’s hard to believe now, but back when I was a kid, going to 7-Eleven was a treat. It was like destination shopping. Where else could you get a Slurpee in a commemorative Star Trek cup, a pack of baseball cards and a box of nerds?
What I can buy at a convenience store like 7-Eleven may not hold sway over me any more, but as a technology reporter, the ways I can get convenience store items now is something I’m paying attention to.
Like every other retail sector, convenience has had a rocky year thanks to COVID-19. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, for the two-week period ending Sept. 27, dollar sales at convenience stores were up 4.8 percent year-over-year, but overall trips to convenience stores were down 12.6 percent. Beer and packaged beverages drove most of that growth, while foodservice remained depressed.
That traffic to convenience stores is down is not a big surprise. I mean, people aren’t exactly road tripping a lot during this pandemic. The pandemic also explains the boost in beer sales, as we could all use a drink.
But the convenience sector is responding to these troubled times with what appears to be an accelerated wave of innovation. Consider:
Convenience stores are ramping up delivery.
Third party delivery services like Instacart and DoorDash both now offer delivery from convenience stores. Heck, DoorDash is building its own ghost convenience stores. 7-Eleven is making a concerted push into pickup and delivery, even making deliveries to parks and beaches.
Convenience stores are going cashless.
Mastercard recently announced a partnership with Accel Robotics to deploy cashierless tech at retail, and Circle K is among the first customers. Giant Eagle’s GetGo Market+Cafe is using Grabango for a cashierless location. A startup called Skip is focused on convenience stores for its cashierless checkout. And, of course, Amazon Gos continue to roll out across the country.
Smaller, cashierless convenience stores create new opportunities.
Because they can operate without humans, you are seeing diminutive convenience stores pop up with smaller footprints. AWM Smart Shelf is powering a convenience store built into an apartment complex. And the Zippin Cube let’s retail brands create pop-up convenience stores inside places like stadiums.
At the end of the day, all of these technologies are putting more convenience in convenience stores. I can have quick items brought to my home (or park). The ability to walk in, grab what you want and leave without standing in a line will speed transactions up. And smaller stores will be pushed into smaller places in more locations. It all adds up to a pretty fast evolution of that entire category.
Now I just wish they would bring back more of those commemorative cups.