In this series, C&I investigates the future of roadside retailers and their ability to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.

Over the next few weeks, C&I will speak with leaders in the field about how they see the petrol and convenience industry adapting to the changes in the way Australians are using the channel.

This week we speak with Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retailers Association (NRA).

C&I: How has the role of a roadside retailer evolved within the Australian market?

Lamb: Roadside retail has and continues to change quickly in the Australian market. It’s no longer viable to rely on fuel-only sales – roadside customers are expecting much more. Shopper insights show the modern customer expects a broader convenience offering that includes fresh meals and food delivery.

This was seen in last year’s revenue for the sector, which reached $35.6 billion, with the largest portion of profit coming from non-fuel products.

C&I: What advice do you have for roadside retailers in finding new revenue streams to make up for the decline in fuel margins?

Lamb: Successful retailers are embracing technology. There is an impending demand for online services to extend to roadside customers who want a personalised, streamlined service. I think in the near future we will see customers paying for fuel or convenience products through an app or even vehicle plate recognition. It is technology like this that reinforces what roadside retail is known for – convenience and reliability.

Tech also gives retailers access to valuable data insights. From this, retailers can invest in the right innovation for their business. It is the retailers who sit on the sidelines when it comes to online customer engagement will be left behind.

C&I: Globally, are there any markets that Australian roadside retailers should look to for advice and inspiration?

Lamb: Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands has introduced a very innovative fuel delivery model. Shell TapUp is a web-based application that allows consumers and businesses to conveniently schedule orders for fueling and other services for their vehicles. This recognises a pain point for customers– either running out of fuel on the road or getting to their destination running on fumes. It’s an even more convenient service.

C&I: Are there any fuel retailers in Australia that you’d highlight as having evolved their business models particularly well?

Lamb: Ampol, which was until 2020 known as Caltex, has evolved significantly in recent years to meet the needs of the modern roadside customer.

C&I: Are there any new trends you’ve noticed within roadside retail over the past six to 12 months?

Lamb: Technology, particularly phone apps and data, has been the most obvious trend roadside retailers have adopted. Our retailers are understanding the importance of online engagement and are joining food delivery apps offering ‘couch food’, and we’ve also seen larger chains like 7-Eleven and Ampol create their own apps with reward programs. As with the wider retail sector, data-driven and personalised marketing are forming a greater part of the customer experience.

C&I: How do you envision the next 12 months for roadside retail in Australia?

Lamb: It is clear the pandemic has ultimately changed fuel consumption habits with changing work patterns and the rise of electric vehicles. Shoppers of roadside retail are no longer just the transient one, but the local shopper too. I think operators will continue to implement drive through systems and offerings of fresh, locally produced food to remain competitive.

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