In his latest opinion piece, Darren Park, CEO, United Convenience Buyers, discusses how making time for non-fuel customers makes all the difference.

For years, many in the petrol and convenience (P&C) channel have spoken around the need to grow our food and coffee business, giving shoppers another reason to visit our stores. Hand on heart are we just ticking the box or are we truly focused on becoming a respected food and coffee destination? More importantly are we doing everything we can in becoming part of our shopper’s daily repertoire when it comes to food and coffee, or are we just an impulse purchase when in-store filling up?

With non-fuel basket sizes growing, it’s time to further explore improving the in-store experience for your customers, because your business stands to win!

The pandemic’s impact on fuel sales

Unsurprisingly, with restrictions enforced across much of Australia, there has been a recent decline in fuel-only traffic in our channel, according to CMA. These changes in shopping behaviour have seen sales of in-store merchandise, snacks, bread, tobacco, milk, paper goods, grocery and food-to-go all increase, growing the non-fuel share of sales in our stores.

This decline in fuel-only sales may sound like bad news, but gives us three clear and actionable insights:

  1. Customers are coming to our stores for more than just their petrol
  2. Focusing on fuel-only customers will not maximise your sales
  3. Our non-fuel offers must be up to scratch to keep customers coming back
  4. A decline in non-fuel helps give us an insight, no matter how small, to a world without fossil fuel to a c-store. We need to ensure we are more important to our customer than just energy (fuel) for their transportation. We must be the best we can be.

Put simply, non-fuel sales growth means that customers see your store as more than just a place to refuel, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Instead, they are coming to your store to shop for more categories, meaning more browsing time and most likely increased spend.

Rather than hoping these customers continue to return, while we focus on our fuel-only sales, we must ensure their total in-store experience brings them back.

Step up your non-fuel service!

When your store is busy, especially during peak times, it’s easy to let customers who have ordered coffee or hot food wait while you serve the growing queue of fuel customers – but I’d advise against it. Peak times for fuel are often also peak times for non-fuel items, such as coffees and hot food, but if customers feel like it’s going to be too much hassle or see several customers already waiting to receive their food or coffee order, it’s likely they will skip ordering entirely.

No matter what is happening in-store, there’s never an excuse to allow these customers to leave disgruntled or unhappy:

I’m too busy! I know things can get busy in-store, but busy times are usually consistent, so you know when they are coming. Employ an additional staff member for key busy periods, allowing you to serve those who may want to add a couple of coffees or hot food to their order. The presence of these employees will pay for itself in additional sales.

It’s too time consuming! If serving coffee and hot food is a challenge, invest in better equipment that enables easier, faster, and improved consistency of your food or coffee offer. Faster service from you, means more convenience and happy customers and like additional employees, this equipment will pay itself off quickly.

It’s too complicated! Keep your food and coffee offers simple, but still relevant and suited to your customers. Don’t over stretch yourself with excessively broad ranges or complex offers that won’t appeal or sell.

Count sales growth not customer complaints! Having the right counter design and fit for purpose food and coffee equipment has never been more important as this can help save time, effort, money, and consistency. When designing your counter, it is vitally important to role play a customer transaction and count the number of steps per order. Multiply this by the average number of customer transactions in each day, and all of a sudden you will realise the importance of a well-designed service area. A poorly designed service area will not only make for tired staff it will also slow down your transaction time or potentially force you to add extra staff. Adding staff is great if sales warrant it, not due to a poorly designed set up.

Choosing the right equipment can also go a long way to deliver the best in-store experience for your customer and achieving the maximum retail sell price. No longer are we limited to powdered coffee or microwaves to cook pies. Self-Tamp Coffee Machines, Stand Alone PUQ Press Automatic Coffee Tamper, Steam Arm Technology, Speed Ovens etc. Delivering an improved offer fast has never been easier.

Remember, ignored and unhappy customers may not come back for food, coffee or even fuel again and this will hurt your bottom line. Offering convenient, high quality non-fuel items, backed by efficient and effective service will improve the in-store experience, increase basket sizes, and will most importantly boost your profits.

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