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Where We’re Going, We Won’t Need Convenience Stores (Famous Last Words)

Technology is changing convenience, not spelling the end of the road.


As famous last words go, the last line of Back to the Future is a blinder.

Doc Emmet Brown: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”

It comes to mind when I think about the fabled death of physical retail in the face of online ordering and next day deliveries.

There’s a popular narrative that bricks and mortar retail is close to pushing up daisies. Tumble weeds roll down every high street while the car parks stand empty and former retail workers line up for jobs at the local Amazon fulfillment centre.

But I have to say I’m not seeing it. In fact, when it comes to the convenience sector, you can say the game is changing but anyone claiming the death of retail may live to rue their words.


Changing concepts

And part of the reason for that is down to innovation. Unlike the high street or the strip mall, convenience stores and filling stations enjoy a long history of thinking differently.

They started out in the days when groceries were carted home in ice boxes by horse and carriage. While traditional grocery stores closed in normal hours, the “ice docks” had to operate for 16 hours a day through the entire week. It was only a small step for one of these businesses to start retailing everyday food items, and hey presto you’ve got the beginnings of the 7-Eleven story.

The Japanese then took convenience to heart, creating the modern 24/7 convenience culture with the conbini concept. The shop never closes, and you can almost always find what you want from a dizzying array of choice – from ramen noodles to concert tickets.

Today, convenience is still pushing the boundaries when many other retail sectors are standing still. 

NPD are a great example, with its Refresh premium café concept blurring the lines between food retail, filler station, and barista house quite seamlessly.

It’s sure to attract the attention of local competitors wanting to check out the new concept.

"It’s incredible to think, but fridges are actually hives of temperature data that can be used in multiple ways to benefit a business. "

-Dave McLoughlin, Business Development Manager
SKOPE Glass Door Inserts at an NPD Refresh location
SKOPE Glass Door Inserts at an NPD Refresh location


Fresh, local, and smart

But they’re certainly not alone. Almost every filler station in existence is planning for an electrified future, while convenience brands around the world are waking up to the demand for fresh and local healthy food.

And it’s in this space where I’m seeing the most potential change. While stocking fresh and local food may reduce transport-related carbon emissions it places a higher burden on power generation.

Something like 55% of the average convenience store’s power bill goes on refrigeration, and the more fresh produce you stock the more intensive this spend will get.

Not that this is deterring anyone, of course. The smart operators are seeking out manufacturers like SKOPE who can advise from the leading edge of power efficiency and digital innovation.

After all, in the face of future power price uncertainty and environmental regulation, it pays to choose energy efficiency on any asset you could still be using five, 10 or even 15 years down the track.

It also makes it much more possible to get a return in just a few years if you expect power prices to keep going north. Which is doubly important for brands who plan to revamp their locations every five or six years.

Digital advances

Yet the really interesting space isn’t on the floor plan at all. Digital connectivity tools like SKOPE-connect are allowing convenience store operators to be more competitive by lowering operational costs and improving quality.

It’s incredible to think, but fridges are actually hives of temperature data that can be used in multiple ways to benefit a business. Tracking power consumption and door openings can help you do everything from cut your power bills to make better asset management decisions.

Then there’s automation, with Amazon’s Go convenience concept recently making waves because it apes the bricks and mortar experience just without any human interaction.

Not my cup of tea, especially as its core tool is surveillance camera technology, but automation of convenience store service is inevitable in many places.

Japan is one great example. The population is shrinking, and the major convenience brands are struggling to find people to staff the stores, so it makes sense that they’re planning for automation in the very near future.

It would be nice to think that the human element will remain in convenience, especially as the marketability of a lot of convenience stores relies on being an active part of local communities. And you can’t do that if you’re a robot.


Well, not yet anyway.


Maybe that’s a famous last word right there!





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