Making the Case for Curbside Pickup at Convenience Stores
This is one of the strongest opportunities for c-stores to compete with quick-service restaurants.
By Angela Hanson, Senior Editor, Convenience Store News
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Convenience store operators have several commonly cited reasons for why they are hesitant to add curbside pickup at their stores: they fear a loss of add-on and impulse sales; it could increase labor costs; and they believe curbside requires a dedicated pickup area in the parking lot. However, there is a simple and compelling argument in favor of offering curbside: retailers that don’t will be left behind because curbside and off-premise are here to stay, according to Tom Cook, principal at King-Casey, a leader in foodservice business improvement. “It’s become a standard now, and it’s going to stay and continue to grow,” Cook said during a presentation at the recent 2021 Convenience Store News Convenience Foodservice Exchange event, held in Charlotte. C-stores are in a good position to compete with quick-service restaurants (QSRs), as the industry’s transition to a foodservice-focused model has been ongoing for quite some time, with foodservice growing to be the second-largest revenue category after tobacco. Operators have improved their overall menu quality, developed signature food and beverage items, and developed new store designs that emphasize their foodservice offerings. Despite these positive moves, though, upgrading foodservice alone doesn’t address current convenience trends and evolving consumer needs. There is room for growth and improvement in the availability of curbside pickup in the convenience channel. According to a mid-2021 survey, just more than half of c-store chains now offer some amount of curbside pickup, and only half of those make it available at all or most of their stores. Additionally, just half of c-store chains that offer curbside say they are “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the results. Nearly 50 percent have no plans to expand their curbside program at this time, the survey found. And among those that do not currently offer curbside, half say they are not likely to add it in the future. Cook, however, pointed to some distinct benefits of curbside pickup that c-store executives should recognize: its customer-centric offering of convenience, saved time, and safety; and its ability to provide incremental sales by keeping c-stores competitive with QSRs and fast-casual restaurants. He also listed several key changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic:
Consumers show a preference for a touchless foodservice experience;
Consumers have discovered the speed, convenience and comfort of off-premise offerings;
QSR and fast-casual outlets are quickly expanding curbside and drive-thru while continually improving the convenience of the off-premise experience; and
Leading QSR and fast-casual brands, including Starbucks and Taco Bell, have even developed curbside and drive-thru “stores of the future.”
For c-store retailers that add curbside pickup, consumers’ strong desire for convenience is likely to increase visit frequency for current customers and attract new customers who want that added convenience, alleviating potential concerns about loss of impulse sales and higher labor costs, according to Cook. The high frequency of use and consumer acceptance of curbside in the restaurant industry demonstrates there is significant curbside opportunity for c-stores. “I think it’s a terrific way to get incremental business,” he said. Cook acknowledged the challenges posed by today’s labor shortage, but believes c-store operators should look beyond their current difficulties and strongly consider curbside pickup if they aren’t already doing so. “There’s a bright future ahead for our industry and curbside,” he said.