Inside Out: Rethinking Convenience Stores

Today in the food retail industry, the traditional sales floor/back-of-house boundary is being replaced by emerging shopping experiences like online ordering, delivery and curbside pick-up. These new services are paralleled by the desire for even more convenience created by eliminating check-out lines. The demand for more options in the same compact footprint creates incredible competition for interior space and prompts us to think about what the convenience store of the future might look like. With the changing landscape of retail and convenience stores, brands are rethinking their customer experience and searching for creative ways to engage customers, provide a convenient and unique experience, and strengthen brand offerings.

At BRR we strive to create inspiring architecture and relentlessly innovate, so we decided to take on this c-store challenge as an internal design competition. We connected a group of emerging professionals from our 11 offices across the country and asked them to explore what the future of the convenience store could be and how it manifests itself in the built environment. There were three main trends identified by the teams that we believe will have the largest impact – creating a local experience, social & environmental responsibility and a new level of customer experience we’ve dubbed “Hyper Convenience.”

Creating a Local Experience

C-stores can transform the shopping environment from quick, high priced and impulse shopping to a more “destination” oriented environment. By incorporating local vendors, highlighting regional specific product and offering seasonal goods, stores can attract a larger variety of customers, and position the brand within the local community. Additionally, offering amenities which are catered to serve the surrounding area strengthens the relationship with consumers — especially with the increased demand for co-working spaces and package pickup or drop-off services. Due to the increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, c-stores have already begun to integrate charging stations alongside fuel pumps, and our team predicts this will grow in popularity. With more EV customers on the road this increases the time spent at c-stores as these individuals wait for their cars to charge. This additional time creates more opportunities for customers to take advantage of the community spaces and services we’re suggesting.

Social & Environmental Responsibility

Along with every other modern industry, c-stores need to address the issues linked to waste management and the sustainability challenges associated with single-use packaging. It’s important to customers for retailers to showcase how they are doing their part to close the sustainability loop and not contribute to the growing packaging problem. Electric vehicles help fight the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, but they are not the only method to create a more sustainable travel center. Brands need to cater to a more diverse assortment of travelers utilizing different modes of transportation (such as buses, bicycles or light rail systems) to integrate convenience shopping into the world of tomorrow.

“Hyper Convenience”

The customer’s demand for convenience will only increase as time goes on, especially in a sector that’s named after the word. “Hyper convenience” puts consumers completely in control by eliminating anything which does not add value to their experience. To provide a frictionless shopping experience, brands need to customize stores to a variety of customers and create a space that is most convenient to each of them. Whether that’s a drive-thru, walk-up window or even the idea of using technology to remove potentially unnecessary steps in the customer’s shopping experience (i.e., just-walk-out technology), c-stores need to embrace this idea of “hyper convenience” to stay relevant to the changing demands of consumers.

The future of travel and transportation continues to evolve, changing the future of convenience retail along with it. These three emerging trends will not only shape the physical form and purpose of c-stores but have the potential to reshape the experience of convenience itself in the minds of customers.

Special thanks to the BRR teammates who participated in this design charrette: Katie Nightingale, Katlin Bryant, Nina Finn, Angie Leek, Leah Edson and Nikki Hernandez.

About the author:

Katie Crawford, AIA, graduated from the University of Kansas with a Master of Architecture degree. Since joining BRR in 2016, Katie has worked on a wide array of projects in the retail, grocery and restaurant markets. Part of her unique skill set includes navigating the intricacies of designing for grocery spaces within multi-story and mixed use buildings along with the individual challenges of coordinating all the various disciplines that come with those complex building types. Email her.