Smollan Thought Leadership | Future of Roadside Retail

Coffee on the go, quick and healthy pop-in-pop-out food choices, airtime, pre-paid electricity, snacks, and easy meals – repositions forecourts as a convenience store that also allows you to fill up your car. In a Lumina Intelligence survey it found that this doesn’t mean that fewer shoppers are purchasing fuel but rather that their main reason for visiting has changed, and that retailers and brands should make sure complex shopping behaviours are understood and a well-priced comprehensive product range is provided. What is also really important to shoppers is the in-store experience.

With convenience a key driver for time-stressed consumers, fuel station forecourts have become a notable shopping channel according to the Institute of Marketing Management (IMM).

How has the forecourt focus shifted over the past year to elevate the offer to customers around a more holistic shopping experience? Joe Boyle, MD at on-the-go forecourt convenience outlet FreshStop says, “With hot foods banned (during lockdown), we were unable to operate our in-house fast-food brands, which led to us developing self-service Grab & Go ranges to bolster sales. Fresh fruit and vegetable sales increased by 100% and we noticed a spike in groceries and healthy snack sales with delivery services via Mr D Food, curb side pickups and WhatsApp ordering groups.”

Taking it a step further, Talking Retail found that only 19% of forecourt shoppers cite fuel as their main reason for visiting, while 24% visiting a forecourt store, travel on foot – mapping the route for retailers to invest to make their sites a destination for shoppers and not just a petrol station.  With an ever-evolving shopper, a comprehensive understanding of their needs as well as keeping a close eye on market changes becomes imperative. Consumers are no longer just looking for convenience, but also value for money; safety, security, and food quality and the avoidance of ‘out of stock’ situations that can quickly swing the experience.

As shoppers choose to fill baskets closer to home premium products, private label, and wider ranges of FMCG items are expected on shelf. These expectations will push for many renewed and innovative touchpoints from data-driven insights to ecommerce expansion; conscious trading as a competitive advantage; shopper-centric future fit channels; intelligent supply chains and collaboration and partnerships.

Trade Intelligence when uncovering trends in forecourt retailing found that retailers focused on the following, will be well placed for growth through offering value with the prevailing sentiment that forecourt products are priced at a premium – by promoting services that conveniently give shoppers more than one reason to stop and shop; providing exceptional customer service; accommodating focus categories such as healthy food and offering a multi-brand platform e.g. Woolworths or Steers. Brands are opting for more innovative advertising targeting ‘fuel fillers’ who have traditionally remained at the pumps – with petrol attendants handing out flyers or perhaps offering to grab them a coffee with tellers in-store bring to the fore, multi buys or combo packs that are on promotion.

The same report gave a re-imagined 5-15year view with the anticipated shift from forecourt convenience retailing to multi-use ecosystems. Forecourts of the future will become online shopping depots with self-service check-out and drone deliveries, managed as unstaffed stores offering voice activated shopping.  ‘Connected forecourt convenience’ will become common place and retailers who do not future proof themselves will lose relevance.

In turn, brands will have to be available in ways that make sense to the shopper as they conceptualise new approaches, other than product availability, to get involved in a way that elevates the shopping experience. “Real-time data and insights will need to be tapped into and together with other stakeholders allow this to highlight ways to stay relevant. Keeping abreast of advancements in the tech field; really making it one’s business to understand shopping behaviours and shaping strategies and innovation to align, will stand retailers and brands in good stead,” said Tauseef Khan, Head of Forecourts, Smollan

With the continued blurring of lines between what were once distinct retail channels, as ‘convenience’ takes on a new meaning through frictionless formats and on-demand delivery, Edge Retail Insights positioned recommendations for four product specific sectors:

Food and Beverage should support the range evolution through innovation and portfolio re-alignment towards key growth areas such as healthy snacking, meal solutions and plant-based diets. As well as recognise the growing role of delivery intermediaries and develop strategies to support visibility of their brands on these platforms, all the while prepared for the decline of the traditional checkout. Innovation around packaging and pack size needs to constantly evolve for the appeal to reach both those who require instant gratification plus packs for shoppers who seek a one-stop-shop for perishable needs for the foreseeable future.

As convenience retailers place more emphasis on fresh-focused formats and food-to-go solutions, the Household product sector should dedicate resources to ensuring supply chains are agile and on-demand for delivery intermediaries.  To consider exploring partnerships with retailers on engagement initiatives related to sustainability at the same time doubling down on innovation related to packaging, product ingredients and in-store merchandising.

Health and Beauty and Personal Care to tailor assortments e.g. offering personal care bundles and last-minute essentials. Along with replicating sustainable packaging and merchandising solutions and consider in-store partnerships stations.

While in-store assortments in the Consumer Electronics and Office and Entertainment sector will be more limited, opportunities will need to be found to creatively merchandise relevant products e.g. batteries around high-traffic locations such as click & collect points or self-checkouts. Emerging opportunities to be captured e.g. campaigns or product exclusives relating to gaming, particularly through digital touchpoints such as mobile apps.

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