How Convenience Stores are Winning at Restaurant Marketing

Yellow and Black Gasoline Station Convenience StoreQSRs, beware. C-stores are coming for your consumers.

More and more often, hungry consumers – particularly young Millennials and Gen Z’ers – are visiting convenience stores instead of fast food restaurants to satisfy their cravings. According to NPD, 10% of quick-service visits are claimed by convenience stores. This may not be surprising to anyone from New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where Wawa has been a beloved staple for years. But, everyone else may be feeling a bit bewildered. Let’s take a look at what c-stores are doing to attract and pull consumers away from your fast food restaurant.

They offer a wide variety of options

7-Eleven, Sheetz, Wawa and Circle K offer a surprising variety of prepared and fresh food. Hot dogs, subs, paninis, salads, pizza, breakfast items – it’s all there. Pair that with the typical convenience store lineup of chips, candy and beverages, and what more could a Gen Z’er ask for?

Their prices are lower

MSN reports that the average food purchase at a convenience store costs $2 less than at a QSR. At the same time, fast food restaurants, faced with supply pricing pressures, have started to reconsider their dollar menus.

They encourage loyalty

When people are willing to go out of their way to get a sandwich from a convenience store, you know the c-store must be doing something right. C-stores have a great start towards building long-term loyalty simply because they have done so well with attracting young consumers. Millennials and Gen Z’ers have long lives of spending still ahead of them!

C-stores have also found innovative ways to leverage loyalty programs, such as RaceTrac’s app-based rewards program. Customers scan purchases to earn, track and redeem points, which they can then trade in for rewards that they select themselves. Rewards span RaceTrac’s variety of food offerings – think frozen yogurt, hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches and more.

They’re innovating in ways that resonate with their consumers

Sheetz recently opened a “food-first” c-store on West Virginia University’s campus. Their goal is ultimately to develop and roll out a café-like concept, and the WVU Sheetz location is serving as a testing ground. Meanwhile, students and locals alike get to enjoy a restaurant-like atmosphere with seating and an open view into the food preparation area. There are outlets and USB ports so that customers can stay a while with their laptops or devices. It truly is an appealing place to spend time.

What does all this mean for you? Well, if you are a marketer at a QSR and you haven’t started to look at convenience stores as key competitors, now’s the time. Whether it’s making updates to your loyalty program or finding ways to innovate within your menu or physical space, it would be wise to find ways to bring that younger customer base back through your doors.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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