The internet has now been widely available for so long that many consumers have grown up with it, and as it continues to develop and affect more areas of everyone’s lives it is helping to shape trends in shopper behaviour in the convenience sector. HIM Research & Consulting has been studying these developments in consumer activity and has identified three key trends which could influence future behaviour of shoppers at forecourt shops: the casual connoisseur, the modern mindset; and fast consumption.

The casual connoisseur highlights the rise in consumers as ’experts’ due to increased access to information through the web, which has driven the awareness of global issues and therefore the ability for consumers to build communities based on interests rather than proximity. This is increasingly influencing shoppers’ behaviour, with an online survey by HIM finding that 82% of shoppers consider themselves to be ’environmentally friendly’ and 59% would like their local store to help them reduce food waste.

One of the opportunities for c-stores arising from this trend, says HIM, is for stores to highlight their ethical and environmental credentials. One of the forecourt groups that is spot on in this regard is the 2016 Forecourt Trader of the Year, Sewell on the go, which gets involved in a number of local good causes. From providing safe spaces for local joggers to fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support and a local animal welfare charity, the group demonstrates that it is willing to "give back" to its community.

Social media also means the casual connoisseur is increasingly linking up with people who share a common interest, and there is a need for common spaces where they can meet. Convenience stores have long been the hub of many communities, and HIM suggests that, where space allows, there is an opportunity to re-shape retail spaces to provide areas for social interaction. It points out that its research shows that shoppers who take a seat spend up to 40% more than other shoppers.

Again, forward-thinking forecourt operators are already catering for this trend. Many are investing in partial or complete redevelopments of their site to increase the retail space and supplementing their food-to-go offer with seating for customers who would prefer to eat in-store. A prime example of this is Peregrine Retail’s forecourt estate where its Shell fuel and Budgens stores are supplemented by Subway stores with a minimum of 25 seats for customers.

The second key trend identified by HIM is the modern mindset. It says this means consumers have increasing expectations of organisations, retailers, workplaces and government to help them live healthier lives. It also points out that health is now seen increasingly to include state of mind, not just the body.

For retailers the opportunity is to offer shoppers the chance to relax and take a break from their fast-paced lives. For instance, by offering consumers the opportunity to reclaim their lunch break or spare time, and providing a layout and feel for their stores that takes any stress out of shopping.

The healthy message can also be amplified through a retailer’s range by offering products that are considered to be wholesome, such as fresh fruit and veg. Again, many forecourts are developing their fresh offer, often with support from symbol group partners or other suppliers. But different age groups have different expectations when it comes to healthy food. For instance, for children it might simply be fruit instead of sweets, while millennials see it very differently. They are the group most likely to have a self-diagnosed food intolerance, and could therefore be seeking ’free-from’ products, and are also switching out of beers and ciders in favour of lower calorie drinks such as spirits. Elderly shoppers may be seeking a wider range so they can buy all their requirements for a balanced diet.

But while consumers are more mindful of healthy options there is also a conflicting trend towards indulgence and impulsive treats. So while retailers should have a core healthy range, more space-constrained retailers may wish to maximise the amount of space they provide catering for impulsive treats.

The third key trend is fast consumption. HIM explains: "With commuting becoming longer than ever before, time has become an increasingly precious commodity, and consumers expect to make the most of everything in the moment. Its research shows that seven in 10 shoppers globally say a long queue would make them abandon a purchase within a convenience store, and that three-quarters of convenience store shoppers in the UK want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

This is a problem forecourt operators have long been familiar with as some fuel-only customers want to be in and out as quickly as possible while other customers will want to shop and consequently slow down queues as their purchases are processed at the till.

A range of new payment methods is one solution for speeding up queues, or preventing the need for fuel-only customers to queue at all. In-store the use of contactless payment using cards or smartphones has taken off, and is speeding up the queues; but a lot of research and development is being directed towards customers who do not want to come into the store at all.

Pay-at-pump systems where the customer has to use their credit card and put in their pin number are already common, but several apps also enable smartphone users to pay at the pump.

Honda, Visa and Gilbarco Veeder-Root are currently developing an in-vehicle payment system which they previewed last month (see page 18). Another method to speed up payment is mobile tills which can be wheeled out at busy times.

Award-winning retailer David Charman, who runs the Parkfoot Garage at West Malling in Kent, uses his for queue busting by positioning it just inside the door. This means motorists who only want to pay for fuel don’t have to go through the shop and queue to pay at the normal checkout.

Another trend related to all this technology is dynamic pricing, where prices can vary due to demand or the time of day. This is still in its infancy in the grocery sector, but HIM says retailers need to think whether this might work in their stores. For instance, it says that as shoppers want less wastage, reducing price depending on freshness could be a good way to meet this need.

Catering for commuters on their increasingly arduous journeys is another opportunity highlighted in the report, and one that many forecourt operators already cover well. HIM says commuters will be looking for pack sizes and designs that are more convenient for consumption on the go.

One swipe deliveries - even fuel

Retailers need to get to grips with the one-swipe generation, according to Ed Sibley, head of client services at HIM.
"This is being led by technology and flexible working where more people are working at home and not commuting," he says. "People want products delivered to them not before or after, but just in time at that particular location. So stores need to connect with customers in new ways. These changing working/commuting habits provide the perfect audience for the modern c-store.
"This has created the one-swipe generation we can do pretty much anything in one swipe with our smartphones. Technology is part of our lives. Why should we expect anything less from a convenience store? The principles of the one-swipe generation are transferring to the physical in-store experience, and the demand for new technology such as contactless payment, flexible pick-up and delivery options.
"There is even a fuel app in the US, called Purple, where you can log your location and have fuel delivered to your car while you sit at your desk."
The app promises to fill up your car ’whether you’re at home, at the office, or out on a date’.
He advised that retailers should use technology but with a purpose. "Use contactless and self-serve tills where appropriate. But don’t do it alone use apps and technology that are well-established, such as Deliveroo."