Smartphones are changing everything—including the way people eat. Consumers are increasingly turning to their smartphones for food ordering—which allows users to skip the lines, and for food to be fresh, hot and ready. C-stores have a tremendous opportunity to make use of this digital connectivity and build a loyal clientele in the process. Convenience, after all, is at the heart the smartphone, and who better to capitalized on convenience than a c-store?
Mobile ordering, still just a small corner of the consumer market, is nonetheless skyrocketing—mobile orders have increased at least 50% every year since 2014, and the NPD Group, a global-information company, reports that digital ordering accounted for $1.9 billion in sales in 2016. The new technology has been embraced not only by the purchaser, but by the seller as well. Customers are attracted to the convenience of using their device to place an order, which generally avoids the typical wait time, and c-stores are happy to have a new way to connect with customers, allowing for digital marketing opportunities, coupons, 24-hour discount deals, loyalty programs and more.
Customers place many of their orders through business-specific apps, which allow them to sidestep the use of an internet browser and thus save a bit more time. Companies with their own unique app are preferred to those without; a spokesperson for the NPD Group claims that “if restaurants or foodservice operators don’t have a mobile app, consumers may very well choose a restaurant that does.”
Trends Within Mobile Ordering
Research shows that mobile ordering appeals to certain demographics more than others. Many of the customers are under 35 years of age and higher-income, perhaps looking for a quick bite to eat before settling in for an evening of streaming their favorite TV show. Children are another important niche market—the NPD reports that 35% of orders are for parties with kids—the parent hosts perhaps suddenly realizing they have no cookies on hand. Both of these age groups present a crucial opportunity for c-stores to capitalize and reinforce the wisdom of knowing one’s customer base—quick, mostly non-perishable food for the tech-savvy, grab-and-go set.
The Power of The Coupon
App-based restaurants such as c-stores are discovering that coupons hold even more attraction for customers in the digital realm than in the traditional, physical store. Twenty-nine percent of all digital orders in 2016 were placed with a coupon, and digital orders were twice as likely to have incorporated an online deal of some kind.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for c-stores in the new mobile universe is an increased fickleness on the part of their clientele. With so many options at their fingertips, potential customers are that much more likely to lose interest in a brand or store after a single technological snafu that represented thirty seconds of lost time or after seeing a coupon for a rival business that actually only saves less than a dollar. In order to win customer loyalty, the savvy c-store owner must stay competitive on the promotional front—drawing customers in with a substantial discount off their first order, keeping them interested with regular promotions and loyalty program offers. For in one crucial respect, the digital realm is no different than the classic storefront—at the end of the day, the customer is king.