C-Stores and the Transition from Gas, Cokes, and Smokes

C-stores must transition from selling necessity-based goods to providing a more unique consumer experience. 

When gas stations first started popping up in the early 1900s, they weren’t just about fuel. They were the start of American driving culture. Over the years, they’ve evolved greatly to what we know today, offering everything from snacks and drinks to lottery tickets and tobacco products. 

But the world is changing, and cars are being made to have greater fuel efficiency than ever (not to mention those that are electric) — which means less stops for gas and even fewer visits to the c-store. In 2007, the Ford F150 could get 16 miles to the gallon. Today, that number has increased to 22 mpg. Current research shows that the average American drives just over 13,400 miles per year. But with 37.5% more fuel efficiency in cars, they’re filling up nine times less every year. 

It’s time for the gas station c-store to differentiate itself from the dingy, dirty shops with junk food and cheap souvenirs we’ve come to know. In 2019, it’s time to focus on a more enjoyable consumer experience that delights customers and keeps them coming back. 

Trends in C-Store Transformation

A number of store chains across the country are leading the charge in transforming the c-store experience into a unique and hyper-localized experience that consumers don’t just visit out of necessity, but voluntarily flock to. These stores are differentiating through:

  • Healthy food. As Americans lean toward healthier food options, their appetite for the fried, cheesy, oil-laden fare of yesterday’s c-stores is waning. Today, they want healthier options that keep them full (and free of car sickness) as they travel. East Coast chain Wawa not only offers premium food choices like healthy salads (with quinoa!) and fresh sandwiches, but also a nutrition calculator and tips for healthy eating on their website.
  • Unique products. Drivers can get gas, cokes, and smokes anywhere. To keep them coming back, modern c-stores must offer unique foods and products that give customers a specialized experience they can’t get anywhere else. Texas-based stores like Buc-ee’s and Woody’s Smokehouse sell a variety of homemade jerkies, fine cheeses, and branded souvenirs, while Hruska’s offers kolaches that consumers travel far and wide to sample. 
  • New services. Americans are more tech-savvy than ever, and they expect the brands they interact with to be too. Stores that offer mobile apps give consumers a more convenient way to pay at the pump, browse menus, earn rewards points, and even pre-order food through a channel that coincides with their everyday lives. 
Today Tomorrow
Fuel provider Energy provider
Commodity-driven Service-driven
Limited interaction with consumers
(< 4 minutes)
Best-in-class customer experience
(a destination that delivers convenience in products, food, and services)
“One size fits all” offers and promotions Tailored and personalized experiences and services
Limited product assortment (coffee, tobacco, etc.) Hyper-localized or differentiated assortment
Traditional buying channels Omni-channel, frictionless options

From Commodity to Specialty

Human dependence on fossil fuels isn’t going away any time soon. But engineers are creating more fuel-efficient cars and machines every day that steadily decrease the necessity of gas. As brands of every industry like Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, and others offer more personalized, curated experiences for their customers, consumers will begin to expect those same interactions from every brand they encounter — from gas stations to grocery stores and beyond. 

To remain relevant and profitable, c-stores must transition from a commodity-driven business that consumers view as an unavoidable necessity to an enjoyable experience they actively seek out. 

Build an Experience That Keeps Customers Coming Back

A whopping 81% of Americans now own a smartphone, and they expect their brand experiences to be as mobile as their lives. P97’s experience-driven mobile commerce and digital marketing platform allows gas stations and c-stores to provide personalized interactions from the convenience of a branded mobile app. P97 is redefining how customers engage with your brand by allowing you to send mobile offers through push notifications, accept payments, promote digital marketing, review deep analytics, and more. Start driving increased store traffic with mobile commerce capabilities by scheduling a demo today. 

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