I love getting gas at Costco, and not only because it’s the cheapest gas around. It’s because Costco makes its gas hoses extra long. So if I happen to pull up to the pump on the opposite side of the car my gas tank is on, I don’t have the anxiety of having to turn the vehicle around in a tight space with other cars lined up right behind me waiting their turn. Instead, I can just pull the extra-long hose around my car—something I cannot do anywhere else, because the standard gas station hose is only about six feet long. It also means all the other drivers who arrive on the wrong side won’t slow me down, and we can all get our gas sooner.
It’s a small but meaningful thing that Costco has thought of and built into its design that makes its customers’ lives easier. Same goes for the wider parking spaces Costco paints to reduce parking anxiety. Most consumers see it the same way: an added convenience they appreciate. But don’t assume this is something purely altruistic that Costco is doing. In the case of the gas pump hoses, it means many more cars per hour can drive through and fill up on gas. The line at the pump is virtually unbroken all day long, which in turns helps Costco make up through volume for the lower gas prices it charges. Its pump design is the perfect example of linking the convenience model to a business benefit.
Convenience Seems Simple Enough: Make It Easy For Me.
Stand out among your competition by enabling time-pressed, harried consumers to come in and out of your store location or e-commerce site as stress free as possible, with goods that are merchandised in ways that can be easily discovered and added to their shopping carts. To do this, a company must always put itself in the shoes of its Me’s and think of all the little things that make the transaction smooth. The thing is, many companies say this is one of their Cs, but very few companies truly think that way.
How many times have you found an item and your size was missing? Or the item you came for was out of stock after you spent 20 minutes trying to find a parking space before even entering the store? Or when you went to check out, only 2 out of 10 registers were open?
Or did you have to hunt for some necessity because it was stuck in the back of the store? Those companies are making the whole experience about their needs, and not what is best for their Me’s. It’s the same reason for cluttered supermarket aisles, which are common in bigger cities like New York where rents are high and companies want to sell as much per square foot as possible.
Store managers often place promotional displays in the already crowded aisles in the hope of encouraging more impulse buys. But that move makes it harder for their customers to find or access what they came in for in the first place. When consumers experience these obstacles too many times, or even once, they vote with their feet, or fingers, clicking their orders on Amazon.
Convenience Is In The Eye Of The Customer, Not The Company
If you orient your business thinking around ways the convenience model can benefit you and not your customer, you are missing the point. If the convenience model is going to be the primary way you orient your relationship with your Me’s, then it must be focused on ways of resolving whatever inconvenience they may have in a given moment, with whatever mechanism exists, even if it doesn’t result in making as much of a profit in the moment.
In the extreme, it could go as far as ordering from a competitor if you’re out of stock on something. Convenience means making your customers believe that you will do whatever it takes to make their lives easier.
You’d be amazed at what ingenious merchandising ideas you can come up with once you’ve made that mental shift toward convenience in the truest sense. If you’re a toy store, for example, instead of merchandising according to type (board games, stuffed animals, action toys, etc.), maybe you could organize your products according to the age of the child. Imagine how much easier that makes it for the shopper who just wants to pop in and out of your store with an age-appropriate gift for a birthday party? Or if not by age, then at least something other than product type? Most toy buyers are what you could consider occasion shoppers, so why aren’t toy stores merchandised around occasions? Because it’s more convenient for your employees to restock shelves when they are organized by type (puzzles, action figures, etc.). Wrong priority if convenience is your C of choice.
The In-Convenience Store
You might think the first convenience stores should be the literal definition of this C, but they were anything but. This category of retailer earned that moniker because these stores seemed to be on every corner, so people could easily walk there to buy a loaf of bread and Kraft singles for a late-night snack. These corner stores may have charged a bit more for the essentials, but the stores were everywhere, and they were open at all hours. And that was about it.
Customers certainly were not shopping at these stores because the product assortment was good, unless they wanted only a gallon cup of sweet soda, salty snacks, or some mystery meat that had been on rollers for the past 48 hours.
Then along came Wawa, with fresh food, bright lighting, clean bathrooms, and happy associates. More than just a chain of gas station convenience stores, the privately held business (which got its start in 1902 as a dairy business that delivered milk directly to homes throughout Philadelphia) has become a beloved destination for people who want more than just a place to fill their tanks and bellies with any old greasy snack. Consumers throughout the East Coast of the United States (which is Wawa’s main footprint) actually go out of their way to grab a gourmet coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
Wawa consistently earns industry awards for the quality of its food and service, with its separate deli counter that does made to order sandwiches, and branded food and beverage products. The stores never close, and they consistently restock and clean the store throughout the day. Wawa’s corporate values are “Value People, Delight Customers, and Do Things Right.” The company trains its employees at Camp Wawa and Wawa University. If its associates (who, by the way, are paid well at $15 an hour or more) somehow get an order wrong, or take too long, customers get a free snack or soda.
Plug And Play
Wawa, which serves 600 million customers a year through more than 800 stores, is always trying out new technologies and formats to improve the customer experience, including its first drive through store in Westhampton, New Jersey, late in 2020. Think about that for a second. They care a lot about selling gas. It is core to the convenience store model. But they care more about their customers and giving them convenience. It’s constantly updating its approach with the convenience of its Me’s in mind, including the option of a touch-screen ordering system for deli items, such as built-to-order salads. But it’s much more than the seamless ordering of a sandwich. In a convenience-store industry where few if any invest in expensive technology, Wawa has built a third-party platform that will enable it to connect with the software of technology partners such as Uber Eats and Grubhub, allowing the company to provide door-to-door service to its customers without having to hire drivers or buy vehicles.
“We believe we have a one-of-a-kind of opportunity to enhance our relationship with people and back it up with technology to make interactions more seamless and robust,” explains John Collier, Wawa’s CIO.
Wawa, in a technology strategy it refers to as “boundless convenience,” likely has other partnerships up its sleeve that will make the consumer experience more seamless, including mobile checkouts to reduce wait times and an opt-in app that allows customers to activate the right pumps for their chosen type of gas and pay with a few clicks. The company’s entire orientation is around bringing convenience back to the convenience store.
Clean, Friendly, And In Stock
Bucee’s may not be as high tech, but the Texas-based chain of travel centers is just as beloved for its banks of differently positioned gas pumps numbering in the hundreds and the cleanest bathrooms along the interstates (so spotless, in fact, that they are certified). Bucee’s corporate motto (the title of this section) should be the mantra for any company looking to give quantum consumers whatever they need in that moment in an environment that’s so appealing, we’re all like kids in the car screaming, “Are we there yet?” And as if Bucee’s can read our minds, roadside signage reads, “Let us plan your next potty—52 miles,” and its eponymous beaver saying, “My overbite is sexy—2 miles,” as if travelers need to get any more amped up about the proximity of their most-favored pit stop.
Personally, I am so passionate about this roadside chain that I have a Bucee’s bumper sticker on my car. To understand the appeal of Bucee’s, you must think about the typical road-trip truck stop, where you compete with giant tractor-trailers for a handful of gas pumps and with other road trippers for parking spaces, and then choose from a selection of greasy or high-calorie foods. Then there are those bathrooms . . . Like Building 19, they are extremely convenient: just a quick right off the interstate and then right back on. Convenient, but that was it.
Until Bucee’s redefined the category. For starters, there are no semi-trucks allowed. There are acres of parking, the aforementioned gas pumps are stacked as far as the eye can see, and the gas at Bucee’s is always cheaper than at other options nearby. But that’s not all. Bucee’s food is fresh and delicious. You can get a barbecue sandwich equal to any highly rated BBQ joint in the state and an entire zoo’s worth of jerky options from its “jerky bar,” but you can also get a fresh salad and other healthy menu items. As a family, we time our road-trip gas stops around breakfast and lunchtime so we can eat there instead of at one of those depressing interstate travel centers where all you can find to eat is a sad-looking hamburger or a congealed slice of pizza.
In addition to Bucee’s vast array of snacks, including freshly made fudge from its “fudge station” and Beaver Nuggets (highly addictive caramel-coated corn pops), Bucee’s sells cleverly merchandised cups, kids’ toys, throws, baby onesies, home decor and furnishings, stuffed Bucee’s beavers, and all manner of kitsch. There are even wines and suggested pairings to go with their food offerings.
“You want to plan your trip so that you run out of gas right there,” Texas-born chef and restaurateur Ford Fry enthused to the food review website Eater.com. “Even if you’re not running out of gas, you’re stopping at Bucee’s.”
Above all, what has led to this cult-like following of the chain, where people line up outside when new stores have their grand openings, is the associates. They have generosity of spirit to match the sheer scale of the store. No question or request from a tired traveler is too much for these folks. Their general attitude is partly explained by the fact that they are paid well, with opportunity to move up in the organization. A sign placed near one of the Bucee’s deli counters lets everyone know how fairly the associates are paid, from $15 for a cashier, gift department associate, or warehouse associate to $19 and up for a team leader or assistant, plus a 401(k) and three weeks, paid time off for everyone.
Bucee’s is actually less convenient than its myriad competitors because there are simply not enough locations yet, but you’d be hard-pressed to hear anyone describe their locations as inconvenient. The company has thought through everything travelers might need or want on their journey.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Joel Bines and excerpted from his book The Metail Economy: 6 Strategies for Transforming Your Business to Thrive in the Me-Centric Consumer Revolution (McGraw Hill)
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