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What You Need to Know About C-Store Drive-Thrus

July 30, 2020
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If you thought drive-thrus were exclusive to restaurants — think again. C-stores are evolving to include drive-thrus to maximize convenience, remain competitive and attract a new type of shopper.

Drive-thrus provide customers a fast and socially-distant way to shop for in-store items without having to leave their car. They also invite business from customers who are on the road but don’t need to stop for fuel, and therefore, don’t come in-store.

As more people take precaution to shop in less crowded environments to stay safe during the Coronavirus pandemic, drive-thrus are a competitive differentiator for c-stores. But data shows this trend will continue into the future post-pandemic.

Forty-nine percent of surveyed adults said a drive-thru is an important c-store amenity and 57% said it is something they are likely to use, according to data from the Convenience Store MarketBrief.

If you’ve considered adding a drive-thru to your store, you’re not alone. Many retailers are open to embracing the new format. Here are tips to consider before making the change to ensure success at your c-store location.

1. Optimize your operation

Adding a drive-thru to your c-store will increase the volume of customers your location can serve. You will need to increase your staff to accommodate the surge in new business and ensure smooth in-store service.

A drive-thru will also decentralize your store operations. To mitigate this challenge, assign dedicated staff to the drive-thru. Then, arrange your inventory so frequently-purchased items are in close proximity to the drive-thru window. This will allow your team to prepare orders quickly and provide efficient service.

Remember that building a drive-thru does not guarantee new business. You must market and advertise your new drive-thru on your website, social media and in new releases to draw in new customers.

2. Collect purchase data

The customer who uses your drive-thru is not necessarily the same customer who shops in-store.

Data shows that 37% of surveyed adults who use drive-thrus are millennials. A majority are women and earn less than $50,000 annual income.

To best serve this new audience, analyze thirty days of purchase data to learn more about their buying behaviors. Once you learn their frequently-bought items, advertise them at the window and create deals or discounts around popular pairings, like coffee and a bakery item, or a soft drink with a deli sandwich.

Your c-store has an opportunity to create loyalty with your drive-thru customer in the same way you develop a relationship with your in-store regulars. Capitalize on available data to generate new and repeat business.

3. Consider the customer experience

Your customer already has a routine. How can your c-store drive-thru add to it, or make it easier?

Perfecting the customer experience of your drive-thru will come with trial and error and a willingness to try new things. Remember, what works for your in-store customer may not directly apply to the drive-thru.

For example, while some c-stores have implemented mobile ordering with drive-thru pickup, others have learned their customers don’t want the “extra step” associated with placing a mobile order.

Gather drive-thru feedback through beta tests at one of your c-store locations before rolling out to other sites. When Starbucks experimented with adding a drive-thru at one of their store locations, they quickly learned that customers wanted to see pictures of food and bakery items on the menu. They also responded favorably to a video ordering system that allowed drivers to see the barista’s face when placing an order.

These small changes to the customer experience increased customer satisfaction and profitability. By asking yourself what your customer wants and striving to deliver, you too can find success with a drive-thru at your c-store location.

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